This morning at breakfast with my three adolescent granddaughters this interesting subject came up.

I said that I thought that over the years someone who has been good to you, who has come through for you in moments of crisis and necessity, who has risen early to carry your suitcase to the station, or who has spent the night with you in the hospital, ultimately forges a bond of love and respect.

The sixteen year old disagreed strongly. “I don’t think doing things for someone makes them love you, at all. On the contrary, they take you for granted, trample on you, and spurn you.”

The thirteen year old said, “When someone is exceptionally good to me, I think there must be something wrong with them,” which made us all laugh.

“I see what you mean,” I said, remembering just such a sentiment at her age.

The eighteen year old chimed in, “Much better to play hard to get.”

I had to laugh and admit there was certainly more than a little truth in their frank comments.

Again the thirteen year old said she knew of a mother who was devoted to her lazy boy who did nothing for her whereas the hard-working girl who had cared for her mother over the years was spurned and rejected. Again, I had to agree, these things happened and that love, indeed, was often blind and did not always respond to a good action.

Certainly my granddaughters were right in maintaining it is necessary to keep certain boundaries, to always remember that we are separate individuals, that we cannot merge completely, and that our first duty is to protect ourselves. We need to maintain a certain distance from others not only in order to preserve their respect but ultimately to help them with their lives.

Secondly, though, I was not entirely wrong, surely, looking back on a long marriage and what has forged strong chains of love: someone else’s loving actions in moments of crisis and need.

Perhaps Rilke said it best: “The point of marriage is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries; on the contrary, a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust. A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.”

 ― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Sheila Kohler is the author of many books including the recent Dreaming for Freud.


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