On Relationships: Embracing Love in Romantic Complicity—Excerpt 4
Before the Beginning
Whether we realize it or not, everybody has a gift to give. Everyone surrounding us can teach us something about human nature, but whether we learn the lessons that are offered to us depends on our readiness and willingness to look upon people as our teachers. In a way, to echo a notion expressed by Dirk Wittenborn, “We are the sum of all people we have ever met.” We are probably not just the sum of all our lessons learned; more likely, we are also the product of all our experiences, perhaps even the quotient of many episodes, if not the remainder of various subtractions. These may not be the only calculations of how you have become you, but they may account for many of the characteristics that have become part of you. Let’s also state a paradox that is pervasive: “It takes wisdom to know that we seek more wisdom,” and so, in order to learn from your experiences, you need to put your ego aside long enough to allow the learnings to filter in and take up residence in your soul as nuggets of truth about who you are and what you are here to do.
In a metaphorical sense, we all provide mirrors to each other in which we can see our virtues, our vices, and all the other attributes that are important to us. Nnamdi G. Osuagwu tells us, “Treat people like mirrors and watch how you reflect in their eyes.” The “chemistry” to which we refer when two people meet and get along without any rational justification may be explained by this mirror principle in that perhaps two individuals see in each other the reflection of what they like best about themselves. The converse is also true; when two individuals meet and dislike one another without any apparent reason, they may be reflecting to each other the attributes they dislike most about themselves.
If I look in your eyes and see something to which I resonate positively, I’ll most likely feel good about you and about myself. I may even end up saying that I like you. We may re-interpret the statement “I like you” as the equation “I = you” (“I” is like “you”). I have thus found something in you that reminds me of myself.
If I look in your eyes and see something to which I react negatively, I’ll most likely not feel good about you or about myself. I may even end up saying that I dislike you. We may re-interpret the statement “I dislike you” as the negation “I ≠ you” (“I” is not like “you”). I have thus found something in you that I do not like in myself.
If I look in your eyes and remain indifferent, I’ll most likely feel indifferent about you and not see a reflection of any attributes in myself. This may explain how even people we’ve met a while back may remain unknown to us. They are kept “in different” to us, meaning that we have no or little similarities (likes or dislikes) from which to create a rapport.
At the core of this mirror principle is our understanding of ourselves and our perceived image of ourselves. The mirror of life stands before us at all times, reflecting to us who we think we are, and we have the choice of either stepping back from the reflection in fear of its implications, or standing still in the web of perception and letting the image govern us. Then again, we might choose to accept the gifts offered to us and step forward to go beyond our humanity into the realm of indefinable spiritual essence.
We can be reactive or proactive, or inactive. Shane Koyczan suggests, “If you can’t see anything beautiful about yourself, get a better mirror.” The quality of the people we accept into our lives is in itself a reflection of how we see ourselves. But, that being said, the deeper truth is that not everybody is merely a mirror. Everyone is a mirror if we choose to see them as such, because, to some extent, it is true, but there also are situations in which what we see is simply a projection of who they are, and from which we can differentiate ourselves. The greater wisdom is to know the difference, and to respond accordingly.
Even though you can’t stop people from having a negative opinion of you, you certainly can prevent them from being right about it. In other words, if you don’t like what you see, don’t blame the mirror. Sometimes, when you can take responsibility for yourself, the most delicate decision or series of decisions can change your life forever. In terms of your indefinable spiritual essence, it’s preferable to change your life proactively before your life changes you reactively.
When a gift is ignored or cast aside as insignificant, our spirit sooner or later finds a way to rebel—hauntingly so, perhaps. The truth of the matter is that every gift seeks its own fulfillment, and fulfillment denied becomes sorrow, guilt, or any number of other emotions that will ask for attention in increasingly dramatic fashion until an overdue moment of reckoning is achieved. Eckhart Tolle claimed, “Whatever you think the world is withholding from you, you are withholding from the world.” Stated differently, as per an anonymous sentiment, “Everyone is gifted—but some people never open their package.” Coincidence is the purveyor of opportunities that offer us the chance to grow beyond our perceptions, if we choose to seize those moments. That which we fear the most is the very soil upon which our growth is most fertile. The image of “who we were” becomes the canvas on which to draw the destiny of “who we will become.”
And so, the better we know ourselves as individuals, the better we will know ourselves as partners in a relationship. Our state of mind, body, and soul is what we bring into a relationship, and thus the more attuned we are to ourselves, the more attuned we can be to our contributions in a relationship. It’s your prerogative to accept that you are good enough already. The paradox in this context is that you don’t need to be anything you are not, other than everything you might become. Additionally, you don’t need to be everything to everyone, but you can certainly endeavour to be something to someone.
To echo a sentiment expressed by Ritu Ghatourey, “You cannot make someone love you; all you can do is be someone who can be loved.” An unknown writer also stipulated, “Before you find your soulmate, you must first discover your soul.” In other words, the more fulfilled you are as an individual—and thus the less you need others to “fill” you in any sense of the word—the more you can fulfill your desire for a loving connection.
There is nothing that a relationship will bring out in us that does not reside in us already. In fact, the relationships we have with others are a reflection of the various aspects of the relationship we have with ourselves, and who we choose to engage with is a pertinent reflection of how we feel about ourselves. What then occurs is that a relationship gives us a context into which we express new characteristics of ourselves, and in which we discover new elements of who we are and what we can do. To paraphrase an old adage: “If you’re already happy with yourself, chances are you’ll also be happy in a relationship.” The converse is likely also true, thus, “If you aren’t happy with yourself, chances are you’ll also be unhappy in a relationship.” If the latter is the case, it is time to do some clearing out and remodeling in the attic of your mind.
Before the beginning, then, you ought to make yourself ready for a relationship by being the best you can be as an individual. To echo a sentiment shared by a participant in a single’s seminar, “You ought to be the type of person you want to love.” If you want good friends, you’ve got to be a good friend. If you want respect, you’ve got to give respect. If you want to be understood, you’ve got to understand. If you want to be loved, you’ve got to love. Whatever you want, you’ve got to be it. Whatever you don’t want, you’ve got to not be it. In more academic terms, consider what may be referred to as your Love Quotient—your knowledge, attitude, competencies and experience with love in a romantic relationship. This is less about how good or how bad you might be in relationships, and more about the degree to which you work on yourself to improve in all areas of interaction with your partner.
Although a relationship will transform you in many ways, it can only work with the substance you bring into it. If you have personal issues to work out, you ought to do that while you are single in order to prepare yourself for new encounters. In fact, you may still be single because you need to work through the various issues that hold you back. Being single by choice doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t want to know anything about love; it can rather mean that you are wise enough to want to become more fulfilled as an individual.
A woman who took the time and space to do much needed introspection spoke about her insights in a single’s seminar. She said, “I need to learn to go slowly with men, and not to dive in head first. I think I fall in love with falling in love, and then, when I discover the true nature of a man’s personality, the whole affair starts to dissolve into a falling out of love. I’ve had too many heartaches already to not choose to break the pattern. It ends here and now. I will never again declare myself in a relationship too quickly before really discovering who it is I am. I am worthy of the best relationship that is possible, for me because of who I am, and that is what I will seek from now on.”
A man in one-on-one counseling relayed his last conversation with his romantic interest of only a five dates: “I told her she’s not ready for a relationship yet. I know that because she was still too much in her head and not enough in her heart. I told her, ‘When you’re able to go beyond your thoughts and delve into your emotions, without needing to know anything in particular about why or how, then you’ll be ready.’ She took it hard, but it was the truth that needed to be spoken”
Indeed, a relationship asks you to suspend all judgment, if what you want is something real even though imperfect. Love is a mystery of the greatest proportions, and only those willing to engage in the adventure consciously yet without any set agenda or expectations will find the path to true happiness and fulfillment. Everyone else will most likely get caught in the web of wondering why and how.
As another example, if you’re still tied to your ex in some voluntary way, you might not be entirely ready for your next relationship. To obtain something new, you often have to let go of something old. To be blessed, one must sometimes sacrifice. A measure of inspiration comes to us from Deepak Chopra, “Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, ask if you want to be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of the future.” A new relationship is a full-time endeavour; don’t seek what you are not ready to handle. Your life will change for the better when you do so as well, thus don’t pray for miracles when you’re not willing to act like a miracle yourself.
Another key to your readiness for a relationship is found in the interface between the priority you assign to activities with your friends versus the importance you attribute to activities with a prospective romantic partner. To wit, if your choice of activities with a prospective romantic partner is continually constrained by your choice of activities with your friends, you can conclude at least at a preliminary level that you’re not yet ready for a relationship. Conceptually, perhaps, you like the idea of a romantic coupling, but pragmatically, you are demonstrating evidence to the contrary. There likely are other variables at play, and not every situation can be analyzed in the same manner.
Only when you willingly make the transition to holding the prospective relationship as a higher priority than your friendships can you say that you’re ready for a relationship. This does not necessarily mean that you begin to devalue your friendships because of a new relationship, because you can hold your values constant while also shifting your priorities. As long as the activities of your prospective relationship need to be scheduled around your activities with your friends, the reality remains that your friendships are the priority. When the activities with your friends need to be scheduled around the activities with your prospective romantic partner, you can then say that you have matured into a congruent readiness for a significant romantic relationship.
Probably one of the worst reasons for seeking a relationship is because you are scared of being alone, and so you desperately jump into a relationship at the slightest opportunity, only to regret it later. You must be wise to your motivations, both in terms of the motives pulling you towards something and the motives pushing you away from something. “Not wanting to be alone” is a negative motivation, and differs radically from “wanting to be with someone.”
Or, you are so private that you are prone to shutting people out from your life—the proverbial “single, not sure how to mingle” paradigm—only to discover at some point that they stop trying to get in. Privacy is a good thing, to a certain extent, but taken too far, it can lead to isolation. The situation can become a self-feeding vortex in the sense of falling prey to “singlism,” a term coined by social scientist Bella DePaulo to describe “the stereotyping, stigmatizing and discrimination against people who are single.” It’s not easy to be single if your world is filled with couples.
One of the best reasons for seeking a relationship is captured in this quote from Robert Frost, “Love is an irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired.” When you are fully and completely ready for the “responsibility of commitment” and the desire for love pervades you in a harmonious manner, you’ll find that love readies you even more for the right encounter with the kind of partner you will desire. Remember always that while you search for love, love searches for you. When you congruently are the embodiment of love, your energy will attract more love. Benjamin Franklin said, “If you would be loved, love and be lovable.” Being congruent in your singleness is paradoxically a prerequisite for being ready to enter a good relationship. Discover love in yourself, and in turn, love will discover you.
How you view your singleness is up to you. Some people see it as a weakness of character, a defect of some sort, an impatience with people, or a resistance to making a commitment to someone, almost as if being single is not a normal state of affairs. Others view being single as strength of character in having the resolve to prepare for what they want and deserve, and to exercise the freedom to wait for the right person to come along who, in turn, deserves them. Witness this statement: “A man can choose to remain true to a woman he never met, like the thought of her is enough to convince him to stay faithful to a course that he believes will lead to meeting her.” Being single doesn’t necessarily signify that you don’t know anything about love, or that you are not competent with love. Nor does it necessarily signal that your life is in a holding pattern, not journeying anywhere new or landing in interesting places. It rather might mean that you know yourself well enough to wait for the right coincidence of events, for the right person who will be worthy of knowing your worth.
You may also view singleness facetiously, as per a quip by a male participant, “I’m not single; I’m romantically challenged.” He later added that he often wondered, if people can’t stand spending time alone because they don’t find themselves good company, how they could legitimately expect others to spend years, or even a lifetime, with them. “It doesn’t calculate,” he continued. “If something is amiss within ourselves, how can we hope to hit the target with someone else?” Well-intended humour can always be a welcome tonic to an otherwise serious matter, but let’s be aware that even then there can be an underlying message that needs to be heeded for our own higher good.
Ask yourself: Do you dare live the fairy tale? Or are you risk aversive? Why are you seeking a relationship anyway? Is it to feel affirmed and validated? Or is it to give of yourself to a partner? Everyone deserves someone who will make them forget that their heart was ever broken in the past. And so perhaps the most difficult questions of all are these: What is it to you to really love? What are you willing to do for love? Only when you are ready, willing and able to give up everything for love, will love in turn give you more than everything. To paraphrase Myles Munroe, “When you don’t need anyone to complete you, fulfill you, or instill in you a sense of worth or purpose, that’s the time you will be the most prepared for a relationship.”
The universe provides in mysterious ways, and if we embrace that mystery for better or worse we can believe there is nothing that happens for no reason whatsoever, as long as we are willing to understand the motives and respond to them appropriately. According to Paulo Coelho, “When a person really desires something, all the universe conspires to help that person to realize his dream.” This conspiracy theory – or complicity paradigm – is a cornerstone in the dynamics of interpersonal rapport through which we can attract the kind of people we want to meet. Whether we open our hearts to love, or close it, our choice becomes the gateway through which we will experience providence even in its most mysterious forms.
Hugh Downs furthermore tells us, “A happy person is not a person in a certain set of circumstances, but rather a person with a certain set of attitudes.” Happiness is not contingent on everything being perfect. Rather, it means that you’re choosing to look beyond the imperfections. Confucius said, “Happiness does not consist in having what you want, but wanting what you have.” Do you have the attitudes that make you a happy person? If not, you’ll find it advantageous to explore the reasons why, and to make the changes recommended.
Assuming that we are “the best we can be” as individuals, we will meet a whole number of people in our daily activities, and, as discussed previously, some we will like, some we will dislike, and some will cause us to remain indifferent. But we need to be clear on what we want and what we don’t want. It’s no use opening the wrong door when we already know that it will not lead us to what we want. The right door exists; it’s a matter of finding it, when we are ready to open it. The choice of wisdom in large measure predicates the wisdom of our choices. Accordingly, it is everyone’s privilege to seek the kind of relationship that will be most conducive to their long-term happiness and fulfillment, keeping in mind Joshua Harris’ claim, “The right thing at the wrong time is the wrong thing.”
If we are congruent in our quest for a relationship, putting the desire out into the universe will eventually give rise to its fulfillment. Lao Tzu said: “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” The cherished encounter may not occur right away, and our patience may sometimes run thin, but constancy to purpose can be our greatest asset when it feels like circumstances are challenging us. With unflinching determination and a positive attitude, anything can happen, and often it does in surprising ways. There is no particular need to rush anything, especially in the following context: “The things that come easily don’t necessarily last long, and the things that last long don’t necessarily come easily.” What is meant to happen will happen at the right time with the right person and for the right reasons.
Assuming the cherished encounter does occur, we may ask the question, “What happens next?” As phrased by a participant in a single’s workshop, “How do we continue, now that we’ve begun?” Or, worded differently, perhaps the pertinent question is, “Are we ready to accept whatever happens as a result of the things we initiate?”
It all depends on whether there is a spiritual connection from which we can evolve a very good rapport, and from which we can help each other walk farther along the path of personal growth. It’s an enchanting experience to meet someone for the first time and feel like there’s a familiarity that is easy and comfortable. We’ve all had good friends along the way, and sometimes our paths have also veered in different directions. We must accept the divergence as what was meant to happen with those individuals. Conversely, a few such friendships may have developed into closer relationships, and we similarly must accept the convergence as what was meant to happen. Friends are a gift of providence that we too often do not appreciate to the full measure of the possibilities they offer us. As described by a man in a single’s seminar, “A spiritual connection is always the better route to a good friendship, and probably the only route to a good relationship. Either way, it’s all good.”
Such is our human condition that we do not, cannot, or will not always rise to the level of spiritual wisdom that a situation calls for. And yet, if we simply allow for the possibility of doing so, we may surprise even ourselves with the depth and breadth of our soul. We all know there are no guarantees in life, and many of us share the experience of a romantic relationship that didn’t go anywhere even remotely fulfilling because the love bond wasn’t resilient enough to withstand the reasonable doubts or the inevitable differences that arise in any couple. To get better results, we ought to provide a better premise. Thus, the only valid answer to the question “How do we continue, now that we’ve begun?” is this: “I don’t know, other than it’s been wonderful to meet you, so let’s continue along that path and see what happens.” With courage and hope, anything is possible. According to John Heywood: “Nothing is impossible to a willing heart.”
Copyright © 2017, Joseph Civitella.