Thursday, 25 February 2016

The End of Love. 1


In my early thirties I performed the funeral for a lovely woman in her early 40s. After the service I walked away from the grave with her grieving husband. "You know, Kelvin", he said, "one day half the married people in the world will bury the other half."

That moment has stayed with me since then; I can remember the green grass and clear sky and his particular stride and his eternal statement. All relationships end. All of them. So what is the end of love? And by that I mean two things: what is the way a love finishes, which is what I want to talk about tomorrow, and what is the meaning of love, which I want to talk about today.

Years later, Clemency and I sat,  the two of us, and looked back into our past  watching two gauche kids, her and me, blunder their way into a life together. We said sorry once again for things that were forgiven and forgotten decades ago. We recalled names and deeds and places long past. We laughed like drains. We talked of those others for whom  the advent of each other had meant a pretty major disappointment, and speculated on why we didn't follow other possible paths.

For I have been in love before (I'll let her tell her own story if she chooses to). Been there, done that, have a whole drawer full of T shirts. I can remember the excitement and the (for various reasons) sleepless nights. I recall the angst and the single minded preoccupation, and the question always present "does she love me?" And the knowledge, that only came late in the piece, that  being in love is not necessarily the same thing as love.

Scott Peck defined love, as you will be sick of my telling you, as the willingness to extend oneself for the spiritual growth of another. Being in love, in comparison, is a feeling. Or rather, it is a cocktail of different and sometimes conflicting feelings in which the mix is probably a bit different in every instance.

Being in love is about the projection of our own wishes and hopes and desires onto another. It is about the filling of our needs for intimacy, for recognition, for power, for understanding. It is about the end of loneliness. It is about sexual desire and the aesthetic appreciation of the beautiful other. It is governed by hormones and expectations, usually wildly inaccurate of the other. It plays out in ways laid down for us by our culture. It is temporary.

Love is sometimes found in the middle of an infatuation, but it's found also, and maybe more commonly, in other places:  in long, safe, committed relationships of divers kinds. In my marriage, certainly, but also with old and dear friends, with my children and grandchildren. It is about me putting in the hard, committed regular work of doing all I can to help my beloved become what some deep instinct tells me she can be - no, what she is already if only she could believe it. It is present even when not reciprocated. It is eternal.

Does she love me?

Well, she thinks about me all the time; she stalks me on Facebook and drives "accidentally" past my gate; she gets butterflies in her stomach when she sees me. But none of that is about love; that is about her and her inner emotional state and her neediness.

Well, her relating to me has, imperceptibly but really, made me wholer, less fractured, more authentically me. By relating to me she has furthered my becoming. I am a better person because of her. This is how I know she loves me.

The end of love is the growth of the other. It is about my gifting, not about my taking. But strangely, as I seek her growth I find new possibilities opening in myself, and, as I give, my supply of gifts seems, like the widow's cruse of oil, never, ever to empty.

2 comments:

Elaine Dent said...

I am taking heart in your honest and encouraging conversations about love and relationships as you write this Lent. Did you know your writing would take you this direction? No matter. These are words and ponderings we all need to hear, and I include myself. If Lent is about renewal, why not start with our most dear ones? Thank you.

Merv said...

Profound.
Our Lenten Study considered the rich man who came seeking eternal life. Jesus 'looked at him and loved him.'
But is it possible in the context of Marriage for 'being in love' to be temporary? And is it possible for Love to remain 'even when not reciprocated'? Where is the glue in this relationship?