Education exists where you happen to find it.
In other words, I have always had a knack for having some of my biggest breakthroughs in thought by engaging in mundane activities that one would almost never associate with higher learning: staring at ants as they travail anthills, or young men and women interacting in coffeehouses, older couples bickering in the markets. Great information is all around us at all times if we’re open to it.
I bring this up because recently, while spending time with my children, it dawned on me why I am sometimes so clueless in the area of love and relationships.
My daughters are very loved. Picking them up, holding them, talking to them softly when they are throwing tantrums—this, to me, is how to love a child, and they love being loved in this way. It’s easy because for small children, love has hardly become a two-way street or an exercise in reciprocation. Sure, they care about you the best they can, but of course we do not expect them to have the capacity to take care of us with the kind of expertise we demand of ourselves. That’s silly.
The problem is that for a lot of people, that is what their expectation of love is. They think, quite understandably, “I know how to love. I will sit here and this person will bring me soup when I have a cold, tuck me in at night, and console me when I fall down.”
Okay, I’m being slightly facetious, but I believe you might get the point. There is a transition that needs to take place in adulthood that, I am almost certain, we give great lip service to, but don’t really learn to master. This transition must include the very difficult aspect of bringing “charity” to the relationship.
By “charity” I mean that we must be willing to accept the things that make our partners hard to live with in order to make ourselves available for the parts of them that are beautiful. I get the feeling that this doesn’t happen as much as we think. Sometimes people go years in relationships where they are expending massive energy to keep up the façade that they came equipped with, and only in what seem like strange outbursts do we see the honest parts of them trying so hard to escape.
The cycle continues as the unpleasantness that ensues after these events lead the person or people to feel bad for revealing their authentic natures. It is then that there will usually be an apology and a resolution to put their real selves back in the hidden box of their psyches until the next time.
What this looks like from the outside is really quite normal and may be dismissed as “growing pains” in a relationship—but unfortunately, there’s very little growth going on until there is charity.
Think about it: most women have had the experience of falling “head over heels” for an incredible man who managed to say all the right things and commit marvelous acts of passion and compassion until two years have elapsed and you notice that this wonderful specimen is a narcissistic jerk who you have to get away from as fast as you can.
I’ve read numerous theories as to why this is, and the internet is brimming with articles about this phenomena, but the one thing no one seems to talk about is that there are two opposing sides to nearly everyone. Yes, they are wonderful. Yes, they are narcissistic. Unfortunately, it takes some people the lion’s share of their days on this planet to realize that the only people who ever look good are the ones they’ve been dating for less than a year.
The small minority of people who are able to stay in relationships for years on end are the ones who realize—or most likely just understand on an intuitive level—that they are shacked up with a fallible human. They are going to have many things about them that are unpleasant.
For guys it happens a little differently. That woman from the office with the professionally cultivated Instagram account does look like she’d be a lot more fun to be with—photos generally are. Photos are clean and neat, and they don’t have mood swings.
Getting back to the point that became clear to me while observing my children is fairly simple in nature, but so difficult for a lot of people to come to grips with. We are not born and raised with an ingrained knowledge of how to love another person. We are bred to know everything about being loved; but the onus is definitely on us as responsible adults to hone the skill of truly loving another. Until we can get to that point, I’m afraid our lives will always be speckled with evil narcissistic men, unstable women, and a whole lot of being alone.