“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” – Haruki Murakami
No one ever said relationships are easy. Well, except for Disney, and endless string of Rom Coms and pretty much the general impression in our culture that says, once you find that perfect person it’s all downhill from there. But this isn’t a piece on the difficulties of relationships, rather it is the danger that we pose to ourselves when we go searching for these Hollywood based Platonic ideals of love. It also about reflecting on what happens to us when we break up or when we start new relationships and how a little mindfulness might just save us a lot of trouble.
First, let’s talk about breaking up. It’s that messy thing that makes the ice cream industry, liquor stores and facial tissue manufactures a little wealthier. In all seriousness though, breaking up is rough. Even assuming it is something that both you and your partner wanted and both of you are civil it’s not all that dissimilar to dealing with death or loss. Coming out of a long term relationship, as any reader here probably knows, forces you to redefine the various parameters of your life. Suddenly you are having to do things for yourself you weren’t doing before, the person that you would talk to when you have trouble at work is no longer there and of course, physical intimacy is out the window, be it sex or just general loving touch.
There’s no question that the first couple of weeks or months after a breakup are full of moments of deep pain and adjustment. Some people go and party, some jump into another relationship or have one night stands. People deal with loss in a variety of different ways. But, if you are mindful, and pay attention, you start to see the world through a different set of lenses. It is the lens of awakening. Suddenly you realize all the habits you had formed or all the ways you censored yourself in a relationship. You realize that you avoided certain music or movies or some food because they grated on your partner. Of course, this usually works both ways. For me, I realize more than anything I have a habit of losing touch with friends or family, especially in situations where your partner might be jealous or feel threatened or annoyed by the people who are close to you. Often by the time I split with a partner I find that I was a ghost of my former self. But how in the hell did that happen? Didn’t the relationship start out joyful? Wasn’t the whole universe wonderful? Wasn’t the sex amazing? How in the world did this happen?
Well it’s probably a lot of factors. But really, it all seems to stem from one thing, Loneliness.
Let’s switch gears for a moment and try to think about what happens when you date someone. Everyone is always putting their best foot forward right? This isn’t inherently a bad thing but certainly is why most relationships (and marriages) only seem to last 3-5 years. We can only put our best foot forward for so long before the truth of the situation comes out. At some point we have to acknowledge what we want and what our partners want. If that’s too different, if the vision is incompatible then usually things fall apart. Quite often, we know fairly quickly, at least within the first six months or year, if this is the case, but we want to deny it, we want to keep pressing forward because we truly and deeply love this person. Please bear in mind that I am not arguing here that we should just split up the second things get hard but self-honesty is a vital component for relationship success.
To have true, authentic love, we have to first go deep into self-exploration. We have to know who we are and recognize our dreams and desires. Of course, if you are like me, your head might always be in the clouds and that might be difficult for some partners to handle. Hell, I have a whole folder on my computer named, ‘Harebrained Ideas’ because they happen to me so often. But, that’s important to consider before you even think of trying to get into a long term relationship. For me, that’s not really something that is going to change, I am already in my 30s and probably unlikely to stop having one crazy idea after another. And I don’t just have them, I usually try and act on them. Imagine how crazy I can make a partner who is of a more domestic temperament and yet, this has been the source of conflict in numerous of my past relationships.
Of course, if you are already in a relationship, being a little mindful of your interactions, hopes and dreams can also be a valuable tool for the long term health of the relationship. But here I want to mostly address what we do in the beginning of relationships.
We all know we wear a mask when we start new human interactions. Hell, Billy Joel told us something that was known for centuries when he released the song “The Stranger’ in 1977. So it’s not like any of this is new right? Except we keep doing it. We keep going into relationship after relationship wearing masks and then are surprised when things fall apart. Worse, we try to possess or control our partners and change them in ways that will suit our own ideas of the world and how it should be.
In terms of suffering, there is no place we are more willing to torture ourselves then in the arena of love. Because we are told over and over false narratives about the way that relationships are supposed to be (and social media does so much to contribute to this when every one of our friends appears to be so happy with their coupling) we feel lonely and isolated. We will stand up to a violent stranger, we will fight for our freedoms from any enemy or strive to overcome any obstacle. But because we feel this deep need to fill that emptiness inside us, we become willing concede everything or anything to a lover who will just give us a little (and by little I mean the whole world) attention. Love can so often be our willing bondage.
So, before you consider jumping into a relationship try and stop and breathe for a few moments. What will you have to sacrifice to be with this person? Are you values completely different? Do you want different things out of life? Maybe even make sure they meet your family and friends on a number of occasions before you commit, because remember, if they are going to stick around, you don’t want to lose out on the connections you have with your friends and family either.
A healthy relationship should be a space for each partner to grow and learn. It should add to the individual not take away from each person. If it’s bad for one of you it’s probably bad for both of you. It should not be a space that encourages sloth or stagnation. It should be a place where jealousy is at a minimum, where you and your partner are free to explore the world both together and apart. Most of all, it should be joyful most of the time.
Relationships are hard even amongst the best of partnerships. Even the best friendships require maintenance from time to time. Conditional love brings only suffering. Things are already impermanent, why torture yourself? A perfect relationship has absolute attachment and detachment in perfect balance (see image above). Be careful when you dash into the arms of danger you could lose everything, even yourself.