I recently read an article by Acharya Judith Simmer-Brown in the anthology Buddhist Women on the Edge titled “Romantic Vision, Everyday Disappointment.”
“By romantic love, I mean that which focuses on the loved one as the object of passion, devotion, and fixation. The loved one becomes the answer to all of life’s problems, the source of all our happiness, and potentially, the source of all our woes. But, if we are honest with ourselves, we can see that romantic love is deeply unhappy love, addicted to misery and suffer, cloaked in fantasy and separation.
“Romantic love has become a kind of religion in Western culture. In his landmark book, Love in the Western World, Denis de Rougemont traced the development of romantic love in the courtly traditions of the Middle Ages, describing it a s a Christian heresy. He described how Christian nobles transferred their devotion from the unattainable god to the unattainable lover, imbuing her with ideal traits beyond any mortal woman. He argued that such a view of romantic love survives today; even now, one of the most pervasive and unacknowledged forms of theism is our romantic life. We have made the lover into a god, and we are in love with love rather than with the lover. The lover is cast in a specific role in order form him or her to remain a god.”
Many years ago I sat around a table in a pub with a group of friends, split between the 20-somethings, like myself, and the 40-somethings and listened as they described the difference between “love” and “in love.” At the time, I gave it the benefit of the doubt, wisdom bought with more years than I possessed. Time, however, and much thought have convinced me it is all a bunch of bullshit. No one is every really “in love” with anyone else, they are only “in love” with the ideal of that person, that fantasy they have built up in their own mind, and mostly they are “in love” with being “in love.” If one is “in love” that implies one can someday be “out of love.” It is unsteady and capricious.
Love, on the other hand, real love sees clearly. Real love is not blind. It can be self-less and altruistic. It can love the person with all their faults and flaws included, sometimes even because of those faults and flaws. It can understand that the other person cannot, in fact, answer all of life’s problems, and moreover that it is okay. It is right to be that way. It can also help one see the lover’s problems clearly and respond in a compassionate, generous, and wise way to help that person. Love is steady and sure and all pervasive. It is built on clear seeing, and there is always disappointment and that is okay too. We all get hurt sooner or later, no matter the relationship, lovers, parent-child, student-teacher, siblings, friends, coworkers, strangers you see in the check out line, anyone we interact with at all. Being willing to be hurt is what it means to be open, to love openly, indiscriminately, without the blinders.
“When aloneness and disappointment dawn for us, the relationship might have the space to begin…There may be good times, there may be bad times. What happens though, si that we begin to ahave a relationship with a person. We can begin to see the lover as someone separate from us, and we feel aloneness in relationship.
“When we begin to see the other person, there is a new opportunity for romance in a sane sense. The lover’s very otherness can attract us. It is fascinating what makes my husband furious, what makes him laugh. He really likes to garden, he really hates to shop. Continual facination can bloom, because the other person is beyond your boundaries of expectation and conceptualization. That facination can include moments of desperation, discouragement, and resignation. It also includes moments of humor, delight, and wonder. But all of it is tangible and vivid.”
I have felt the pull of romantic love, that excited wonder. What would it be like to marry this person? Have children with this person? Have him make me breakfast? Go to art festivals and theater shows with him? Have someone to appreciate my twisted sense of humor?
That’s not real. Maybe he doesn’t believe in marriage. Maybe I don’t really want children. Maybe neither of us can cook. He doesn’t like art galleries and I don’t like musicals and neither of us understand the other’s sense of humor. Love can be there anyway, long after the bubble has burst. Long after disappointment and frustration has dawned. Love can let you hang in there long enough to realize he can in fact cook, but he likes fish and I like beef. We both love movies and books and good classical music and hiking. We can even learn to understand and appreciate our different humors. Maybe this isn’t the person I’ll marry, and maybe it is. Who knows?
“There is tremendous groundlessness, for we really don’t know where the relationship is going…And, perhaps surprisingly, there is an opportunity for boundless passion when you are not trying to fit someone into a role. This can be happy passion, because you are not trying to manipulate the lover into filling your needs; it is passion which can include sexuality without fear of intimacy.”
“In love” is limited by a state of mind we are either “in” or “out” of, but real love is boundless and unbridled.