I love you just the way you are.
I curl round his broad back, luxuriating in the warmth of his skin, inhaling deeply. How things have changed in a few short years! Is this really the same room, the same bed, that bore witness to so much pain? It’s almost hard to imagine now. The energy of that phase of my life has shifted completely. I smile to myself in the darkness, unwilling to go to sleep for fear of losing this moment of deep gratitude for how the wheel has turned. And I say a little prayer of hope that the wheel doesn’t turn again too quickly!
“I love you just the way you are.” Isn’t that how many of us feel when we fall in love?
We might have dreams of growing old with our beloved, of sharing the passing of time. But somewhere in that dream there’s often a hope that, no matter how everything might change, the relationship we share with our lover never will.
We make a promise to ourselves that we’ll feed it, nurture it, give it the attention it needs and it’ll stand the test of time, no matter how we age ourselves or what happens around us.
The irony is, though, that everything needs to change.
The natural cycle of birth, growth, maturity, decay, death and rebirth is inherent in all things—it’s only the pace at which it happens that makes it seem as if it isn’t. There are short cycles, like the waxing and waning of the moon. There are longer cycles, like the turning seasons. And we each have our own growth cycles—some early maturers, some late.
There are particular times of our lives when parts of our psyche and personality are being prompted to change—which those with an interest in astrology might identify as coinciding with transits from the outer planets to points on our natal chart. Personal growth, spiritual progress, individuation.
However we like to call it, it’s a continual process. We mightn’t always know what we’re progressing to, if there is any destination other than a fuller version of ourselves, but life has a tendency to carry us along anyway, willingly or unwillingly.
As we change and grow, our way of relating to others changes—as does those whose company we enjoy.
How we reach out and connect with life can change. The food we eat, the interests we have, our routines, lifestyles, likes and dislikes—none of them are exempt from change. Yet so much of the “glue” that keeps us connected to work, friends and lovers is built around these. Because of this, allowing ourselves to go with the flow of change when we feel that inner nudge can be difficult. And giving a partner the space to do likewise can be even more unnerving.
How do we know they’ll still want to be with us after they’ve been through their metamorphosis? And how do we know we’ll still want to be with them?
The dominant paradigm in the modern world is to fight our fear of uncertainty by creating as much certainty as we can. We work to become someone and then to stay that way—and we ensure others do the same through the systems we create, and through the binding contracts and laws we enforce.
But with limited scope for individuals to grow, our relationships stagnate. Damned if we do or damned if we don’t—potential death of our relationship by natural flux and change, or death by stagnation.
Life tends to win out, though, even when we try to fight it. An unexpected external force pops by to shake things up: a new job, the loss of a job or an opportunity to move. Or it’s the arrival of children, planned or unplanned, that really shakes things up. Sometimes a secret affair beckons to us or to our partner. Or the urge to grow becomes irresistible to one of us and we ditch the relationship completely in a bid for freedom. Not even the most carefully constructed pre-nuptial agreement can take into account the infinite variety of changes that life can throw at a relationship.
Some of the hardest changes to deal with, though, are those that involve a breach of trust—the feelings of rejection, betrayal and hurt involved when we discover that another’s desires and actions are no longer in line with our own.
But when we say we trust or mistrust someone, what exactly do we mean?
Normally we mean that we trust another to keep their word, to not hurt us unnecessarily—and the subtext here, whether we like it or not, is often that we will trust another as long as they do what’s expected of them.
We all develop expectations of others (and ourselves), expectations about what they are likely to do, say and think, and we also develop our own patterns of action and thought based on these expectations. Some expectations are based on practical need, such as shared responsibility in work or at home. Certain things have to be done and we expect ourselves and others to play their part, as agreed, so that the work gets done smoothly and easily.
Employers and employees, married couples, parents, etc., are all expected to perform certain responsibilities as laid out for them by law or to suffer the consequences.
But we also have other expectations that are not based on practical necessity and we carry them into all our relationships, whether friendships or romances. These expectations stem from our personalities and personal histories, society norms and from what others have said. Our trust, or lack of it tends to be based on our expectations.
I’ve always said that what I truly want of an intimate partner or anyone close to me, for that matter is for them to remain true to themselves. That, of course, means that I have to be willing for them to take the time to really find out who they are and what they need and want. How else could they be true to themselves? It’s no easy task and one many people run from.
When someone finds a way of making that deep contact with themselves, I trust them because I know they will always look within for what is right for themselves, and hopefully act from that inner knowledge rather than reacting to whoever applies the most pressure or offers the biggest reward.
If they commit to something (or to me!) it’s because they feel it to be right and not because of external forces or a desire to please. And if they cannot continue with a commitment they’ve made, I have to find a way of accepting that it is for the same reason.
My trust is in their integrity and in my own, and no matter how uncomfortable that can get at times, its the raw discomfort that allows me to make contact with the preciousness of each moment.
But we’re all human and acting with integrity all the time can be difficult.
We’re under constant pressure from ourselves, and from others, to act and think in ways that fit the “norm.” There are times when what feels right to us would be generally unacceptable to those around us and we find ourselves torn between wanting to act in a way that is true for us yet not wanting to hurt others either.
It can take a considerable amount of courage and skill in communication to act with integrity under these circumstances—particularly if we’re also carrying “baggage” such as low self-esteem, an empty bank account or a practical dependency on another.
But this is what my sense of trust is based on and yours might be different.
Sharing deep trust with another partly depends on having a shared value system—having a similar basis for the choices we make in life. And so, for some of us, being true to ourselves may be less important than remaining true to our original word or being a good citizen, while for others the reverse may be true.
What matters is that there is a shared understanding with those we trust and that the channels of communication are open and flowing so that any changes in this understanding can continue to be shared.
Although it is one of the most painful ways to grow, broken trust can be the opportunity to come to a deeper understanding about what we expect of life and love.
Depending on what’s happened and the kind of person we are, we can do this with good grace—by withdrawing and creating space for ourselves to reflect on how we feel, on our values and on trust itself.
Or we can take the less dignified, but sometimes necessary, approach of raging and fuming against life for a while. Eventually, a light starts to emerge again, as it always does. A new dawn, a rebirth, the start of a new period, the calm after the destruction of the storm.
Where a couple ends up after such a storm depends to a large degree on what has happened and how committed both individuals are to allowing themselves and each-other room to grow and change. With an openness to change, rather than having left the battle field, they may find themselves still sitting amid the rubble of the old relationship, two wounded survivors who share a common bond of having been comrades-in-arms.
And that can be all that’s necessary (along with a hefty dose of good humor) to spark a renewed connection between two people who have changed enough to need a new way of relating. The delicate work of building a new life with a deeper foundation can then start, slowly and gently, day by day.
“There’s a quiet love that grows in the silence;
It creeps in like the returning tide,
Slipping between the cracks,
And filling my heart with grace.”
(from ‘The Beautiful Garden’, by Freya Watson)
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photos: Summers/Flickr, elephant journal archives