A few weeks ago my friend Rachel gave me some books to read. I was particularly interested in one called Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love. It's the follow-up on her love life after her trek around the globe.
At the end of Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth has met a man Felipe whom she is very much in love with. This book picks up with Liz and Felipe in current day. They are living in the states...sort of. Felipe is not a US Citizen so he comes on a visiting Visa, then once that expires he goes somewhere else for a couple weeks then comes back. On one of this random trips, Liz joins him. On their way back into the states, he gets busted. The US is on to his scheme of coming and going as he pleases with no citizenship. Liz and Felipe must wed or he can never come back to the states again.
As two people who made the decision to never marry, this poses quite a problem.
Liz starts on a journey to research everything she can about relationships and marriage and documents it in this novel.
According to the Greeks, we all originally began as 2 people joined together as one. After some time, we began to be too proud of ourselves and failed to worship the Gods as we should. So Zeus punished us. He split our perfect beings into two:
[he] "inflicted on mankind that most painful of human conditions: the dull and constant sense that we are not quite whole. For the rest of time, humans would be born sensing that there was some missing part- a lost half, which we love almost more than we love ourselves- and that this missing part was out there someplace, spinning through the universe in the form of another person. We would also be born believing that if only we searched relentlessly enough, we might someday find that vanished half, that other soul. Through union with the other, we would recomplete our original form, never to experience loneliness again. This is the singular fantasy of human intimacy: that one plus one will somehow, someday, equal one" (p. 98).
Is that not the saddest story you've ever heard? Yet, simultaneously, the most sensical story you've ever heard? Aren't we all just in a constant search for our missing half?
I think most of the people I know have made finding their match a life-long quest. I, too, have searched for that person to 'complete' my life. As Liz says, "it is the emotional trademark of my culture to seek happiness" (p. 43). We are all in a constant search for someone to be our best friend, our confidante, our lover- our everything.
Even when I was growing up, it was ingrained that one of the most important things I could do is find that person and get married. That once I was married, my life would be complete. The only problem is no one made mention of how difficult that would be once attained. We've all heard the divorce rate in the US is 50%. Half. Half of every marriage fails.
Anthropologist Lionel Tiger said "it's astonishing that, under the circumstances, marriage is still legally allowed. If nearly half of anything else ended so disastrously, the government would surely ban it immediately" (p. 122).
So what makes marriages fail? Why don't we, as a culture, trust marriage anymore? Liz says "we're not at all convinced that we need it. We feel as though we can take it or leave it behind forever" (p 75).
I don't necessarily agree. I think we do need it. Marrying someone means making a commitment in front of your family, your friends, your community and God that this person is good enough to share your life with. That you love and respect them enough to love them despite their flaws. Who doesn't want that? I think everyone wants someone that will love them, even on their very worst day. In the book, Felipe says makes a very valid point:
"Can you accept the flaws? Can you look at your partners faults honestly and say, 'I can work around that. I can make something out of that'? Because the good stuff is always going to be there, and it's always going to be pretty and sparkly, but the crap underneath can ruin you" (p 130).
Well said, Felipe.
This got me thinking about what my flaws are. What are the ugly parts of me that will probably always be there and have to be dealt with.
As part of my ongoing journey of finding balance I feel like this is a good opportunity to be honest with myself about those things that might not be so 'pretty and sparkly.' And maybe not necessarily flaws, but things that I’ve figured out are part of what makes me tick…
I’m needy. Not in a way like I need to see you every second of every day or I might die, but needy all the same. For instance, I’m emotionally needy- I like to hear that you love me and that you are happy and that this works for you. I will also tell you (frequently I might add) that I love you and how awesome I think you are (if you actually are- otherwise you probably won’t hear anything from me). I just find it important to let your partner know how much you do care about them and to tell them often. Plus it makes everyone feel warm and fuzzy inside. I’m also physically needy- I like to be hugged, cuddled and kissed. I like to hold hands. I think it’s cute if you put your arm around me when we’re just hanging out somewhere. I like knowing that someone digs me enough they have to be touching me if they are around. Maybe all this makes me a little narcissistic but it is what it is.
I overanalyze everything. And I mean everything. I like to be quite clear how I’m feeling and why and why I think you should know why. This is usually followed by a slur of questions: what do you feel? And think? And do we need to change this situation? Or is it good? Are you really good? Or are you just saying that?.....etc. I ask a lot of questions. I think it’s important for people to say exactly what they are feeling and be able to explain themselves and have an intellectual discussion about it. Sometimes this can be the most annoying thing in the world. Sometimes it’s really helpful because then we get to the root of a problem and I don’t feel like there is secrets. I think once you start keeping secrets about your feelings from your significant other, you can head into a slippery slope. In the book, Liz reads some studies done by Shirley P. Glass- a woman who studied marital infidelity. She says “nothing is wrong with a married person launching a friendship outside of matrimony- so long as the ‘walls and windows’ of the relationship remain in the correct places” (p109). What she’s referring to is this: all relationships are made up of windows and walls. The windows being those things that are open to the world, necessary gaps through which we interact with friends and family. Walls are those barriers of trust behind which you guard your most intimate secrets. The problem lies, therefore, in situations where people meet someone and open up a window where a wall should be. At that point, most people realize that the friendship is pretty close and will probably keep it from their spouse as to not cause problems. This is a mistake- now you have just put up a wall with this person and your partner is on the outside. Next thing you know- you are telling this person all your feelings- not your spouse, you are starting to feel more separated from your spouse…and then next thing you know…bam. The line is crossed. People always say they ‘never saw it coming.’ See how the slippery slope happens once you start keeping secrets? I think it’s best to always be completely honest with your partner about how you feel. If, at any point, you feel like maybe you’re not as close or that things are different- acknowledge it. Figure out why it is. Come up with a solution. Get back on track. For me, I think a lot of this stems from past relationships with friends, partners and even family where I have been completely blown away by their feelings about me because we never talked about it. I don’t ever want to end up in a bad situation where I had no idea it was coming.
Sometimes I have double standards. This happens mostly when it comes to friend relationships. Often, I think it’s perfectly acceptable for me to be friends with a bunch of guys and hang out whenever. But I DO NOT think its okay for a bunch of girls to be around my man! I don’t care who you are. I am quite aware this is a complete double standard and often have to be reminded if ‘roles were reversed’ I would not be so happy about it. I’m working on this one, but at this point in time it’s on the list.
I can get domestic. Why is this a flaw, you might ask? For the simple fact that I can easily slip into a domestic pattern of cooking for someone and cleaning up after them and taking care of them and say ‘no I don’t need help, I can do it all myself’ and then end up resenting someone and breaking up with them. A partner that is good for me knows they need to sort of force me to have ‘alone time’ and be independent. I think the reason for this one is quite obvious- I dated a lot of losers who were completely dependent on me taking care of them so it sort of became my thing. I have since learned my lesson but sometimes need a little reminder that just because I’m not cooking you dinner every night and folding your socks doesn’t mean we aren’t good.
I’m fiercely independent. This goes along with the previous one. I’ve always been the ‘grown-up’ in most relationships my entire life so I don’t NEED anybody to help me mow my lawn or rake my leaves or walk my dog or god forbid, open my car door!! And if you ask me I will always say ‘no thank you.’ But if I ask you for help…it’s a big deal and you should probably just do it or I will bring it up (remember I overanalyze everything?).
I’m sure there are more, but those are the big ones. And because this is real life on Even Me, I thought it was worth mentioning. Some things about us we can’t change, but that doesn’t mean we can’t work around these things in a relationship.
Liz says “to be seen by somebody, then, and to be loved anyhow- this is a human offering that can border on the miraculous” (p 131).
So once you find someone and can look past all their prettiness and work with the ‘crap underneath’, then what?
Deborah Luepnitz published a book several years ago called Schopenhauer's Porcupines where she compared humans in love relationships to porcupines on a cold night (p. 223). She said porcupines would come together for warmth, then would need to separate because they would poke each other. Then they would get cold again and come together only to be poked and separate again- "and the cycle repeats as they struggle to find a comfortable distance between entanglement and freezing" (p. 223).
This illustrates how couples struggle to find balance between intimacy and autonomy. Liz concluded that many couples think they can be independent and together but that is unrealistic. By definition, "love limits". She says "the great expansion we feel in our hearts when we fall in love is matched only by the great restrictions that will necessarily follow" (p. 225).
I can definitely understand and relate to this. I've been in relationships where it feels like you lose yourself in this other person- slowly picking up all their hobbies and habits until you feel like you don't know who you are anymore. You end up forgetting what it is you like to do and you end up losing those qualities that made you attractive to this other person in the first place. I think it's important to always be yourself and spend time nurturing your own personal growth whether or not you are in a relationship.
In my opinion, relationships fail for this and many other reasons. People get lost in each other and they don't have any balance between individuality and intimacy. They have grandiose ideas about what their relationship should be and set expectations that are impossible to achieve.
This got me thinking about how people achieve balance in relationships. For me, it's always been about communication. Honesty is ALWAYS the best policy. Sometimes just letting the other person know what you are feeling and thinking is enough to avoid any major pitfall. After that, its just enjoying the little moments.
Poet Jack Gilbert said that marriage is what happens "between the memorable" (p. 196). After a spouse dies or you are looking back on your marriage, all seem to remember is the high and low points. Liz concludes that marriage is much more than that:
"Marriage is those two thousand indistinguishable conversations, chatted over two thousand indistinguishable breakfasts, where intimacy turns like a slow wheel. How do you measure the worth of becoming that familiar to somebody- so utterly well known and so thoroughly ever-present that you become an almost invisible necessity, like air?" (p 196).
And isn't that all we all really want? Someone to share life with, laugh with, talk to, snuggle up with at night?
Liz's friend Kate Light says it much better than me:
A house in the country to find out what's true
A few linen shirts, some good art