“Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along.” ~ Jalaluddin Rumi
I was 10 years old when I had my first childhood crush.
We went to the same school until I was 12. For two years straight I only saw him during the school day. We’d share sandwiches and candy during the break, and once we exchanged gifts on Valentine’s Day.
We didn’t have phones when I was a kid. Social media was not yet invented. Because we had no communication means to reach other, we never met during summer vacation. I only “crushed” on him during the academic year; I enjoyed our present moment together, because that’s all I knew.
I grew up, I entered into new relationships, and in a blink of an eye, I found myself developing a different perception about love than the one that shaped my awareness when I was 10.
I was raised to believe that being in love and being in a relationship were synonymous. I’d been convinced by Hollywood that the notion of love only exists if there is an actual “happily ever after” between two individuals.
In my Introduction to Buddhism course, our teacher explained how Buddhists differentiate between love and relationships.
Love is something that’s quite vast—it’s so vast that it can’t be framed as a relationship.
Relationships sometimes exacerbate suffering. This suffering is a result of drama and lofty expectations. And most of the time, the nature of this suffering causes relationships to end on bad terms.
On the other hand, love expects nothing, wants nothing and most certainly doesn’t make the other person miserable. Most importantly, love doesn’t end.
Our teacher’s words reminded me of my childhood crush.
Before my mind became brainwashed with wrong opinions about love, my love for others was pure. It was unconditional and limitless, and it went beyond ideas of love in a relationship needing to be proved by ownership of each other.
Where we’ve gone wrong as a society is that we’ve basically framed love into affairs. In other words, we framed something quite infinite into something trivial—it’s like fitting the whole universe into a small box and believing that you’re seeing the whole picture.
Relationships aren’t wrong. However, I believe it is futile to believe that a relationship is a requirement for true love to be experienced.
My past has proven to me that relationships don’t always work out. Some people just can’t be together—or choose not to be together—for an abundance of reasons. Sometimes, the person is wrong, and occasionally, the time is wrong.
But, if two people can’t be together or are no longer together, is their love deemed nonexistent?
Perhaps love has a bigger chance of growing outside of a relationship than inside of it.
I came to notice that we are only capable of loving unconditionally at the beginning and at the end of a relationship. Dzongsar Khyentse puts it this way:
“Parting moments are often the most profound in a relationship. Every relationship must end eventually, even if it is because of death. Thinking this, our appreciation for the causes and conditions that have provided each connection is heightened. It is especially powerful if one partner has a terminal illness. There is no illusion of “forever,” and that is surprisingly liberating; our caring and affection become unconditional and our joy is very much in the present moment. Giving love and support is more effortless and satisfying when our partner’s days are numbered.”
As Khyentse says, our love is only heightened during moments of separation. According to my own experience, it is also heightened at the beginning because our ego wouldn’t be too involved. But once the relationship starts growing, love sometimes fails. When our ego becomes attached to the relationship’s outcome, we indirectly become demanding. We expect more, we opt to change our partner, ask for attention, fear the annihilation of the bond, and take the other for granted.
Perhaps, there is something better than relationships.
It’s called love.
I must admit that the most authentic love stories I have been a part of had nothing to do with relationships. They were short, authentic and void of expectations. The other person and I both left with a good impression of each other. We basically happily ended it before it even started.
At times, I only learned to truly love my partner after the annihilation of the relationship. I loved them when I no longer expected something from them.
We agonize so much over breakups. It has been planted in our unconsciousness that when a relationship is over, love is over.
But, it’s not.
Love has no beginning or ending.
We don’t have to own each other to prove that we love each other. We can still love and give without the actual need of a union. However, if we are lucky enough to be with the person we love (and to love them unconditionally), then it’s compelling. But if circumstances are stronger than us, it’s okay. If we broke up, it’s okay. If a marriage ended, it’s fine.
Love never ends when a relationship ends. If it does, then maybe it wasn’t love in the first place—it was only an egoistical need that made us feel complete for a certain period of time.
Love starts when we wish the other person bliss, even (and especially) when we are not included in it. This is where it starts and this is where it “remains.” Any other kind of love is love that is driven by ego and attachment. As long as we are opting on owning the other person, we can never truly love them.
These words aren’t springing from the writer in me. I am speaking from the person who truly experienced both, solely; love and relationships. And luckily enough, I experienced true love and a relationship both at the same time. And after many heartbreaks, I have discovered that the only heartbreak I ever caused myself was to believe that I have to stay with the person I love in order to claim my love.
Believing in “happily ever after” hurt me more than it benefited me. I have unlearned what I watched in movies and heard in songs. I threw away what my girlfriends tell me and what society understands as right. The only things I have kept in my memory are my experiences—and my experiences tell me that I don’t have to own someone to truly love them.
Sometimes we devalue love when we enter relationships with the wrong people or at the wrong time. We blame love for being wrong.
But love is never wrong; it’s always right.
In order for love to stay as pure as it is, we really must be careful about how we are perceiving it. As I have mentioned earlier, relationships aren’t wrong. But they are wrong if they become a place to take, expect, or destroy the other person. Nevertheless, it’s only right when the happiness of the other person comes before ours. This is a profound point to take into account because even when the relationship ends, we won’t be as disappointed and our love will keep on flourishing because we know that the other person only wants to be happy.
If you’re with the person you love, be happy. If you’re not with the person you love, be happy.
Author: Elyane Youssef
Editor: Caitlin Oriel