We meet a person who has the right combination of traits — great conversation, fun, shared values, joy over similar things, great chemistry ... everyone has their list. This person we are getting to know and feeling crazy about is hitting (most) everything on the list. And we seem to meet (most) things on their list, too. They see us, we see them, and we love what we see.
So we fall in love.
What happens next? Love is compelling. It feels delicious. We want as much of it as possible. Falling in love is akin to getting high on cocaine; while it feels really good, it isn't sane or rational. It’s a real experience, and it’s a high. It’s a great feeling. We delight in it, we crave it, and we might behave recklessly or disrupt our lives for it.
This is where we wade into dangerous waters. Not only do we begin to figure out what we need to change, to do, or to give up in order to spend more time with this person, we also don’t want it to end. We get attached to them and to the experience. We start to think about the future and how to hold on to this experience for as long as we can. Maybe forever, we think to ourselves.
So how do we hold on to it? We want to keep the other person happy. Their happiness with us will ensure they stick around, and then we can continue to be happy, right? So, little by little, we start to compromise. We compromise what we want, what we might like to do, what we eat, or who we see. The changes are subtle, but real. Little by little, we give up, set aside, hide, or compromise parts of who we are. If we move in together and/or get married, the pressure can increase, as the person is with us every day, and we become increasingly aware of their level of happiness and how we affect them by being who we are. We are invested. We do what it takes.
Not all of it is bad. There continues to be joy and moments when we feel that connection again — when we remember what we love about the other, and when we feel loved by them. Moments when we feel fully ourselves, and they do too, and the connection is there. And some of the changes we make might even be good for us, because we find that some of the things that make the person we love unhappy are things that would be good for us to understand more about ourselves. For example, maybe there is a better way for us to express our anger, or maybe there are healthier choices we can make.
But much of what we do to hold on to our love is an attempt to modify ourselves. And of course, it isn’t really possible to modify ourselves, is it? We are who we are. Our nature is as unchangeable as nature in general — the oak seed becomes the oak tree, even if we want it to become a maple. Over time, the joy of feeling loved can turn into the pain of feeling partially loved. This other person — the person who saw us and fell in love with us — is now loving a modified version of who we are, a version that is partly true, but not completely. This love is not deeply fulfilling and doesn't bring joy. It's good, but it is not good enough. For some, the joy of love over time makes it worth it. A different kind of tenderness emerges. For others, this kind of love (and the person we’ve become to hold on to it) chafes. It does not fulfill.
Is it possible to chart a different course? What if we didn’t compromise? What if we didn’t try to give up, modify, or change parts of who we are? What if we didn’t try to hold on to love? What if, instead, we held on with both hands to the truth of love’s impermanence, and rather than attempting to create a future in which we could ensure that this marvelous person could keep giving us the deliciousness of love, we were willing to risk the possibility they will not stay?
What if, instead, we spent our time and energy and effort getting to know, deeply, who this other person is and what their life is about, and if love was about supporting that, even if it takes them away from us for a moment or a week or even forever? And what if we demanded the same of them? What if there is support, even if it means we don't get what we (or they) think we want? What if we spent every day working to tolerate the anxiety of love and attachment and wanting to avoid loss, but not giving in to it? What if we instead just enjoyed the experience of it, and practiced a kind of love that is not about compromise, but instead is about supporting the blossoming of the other into their deepest truth and self — and receiving the same from them?
This kind of love may or may not lead to a shared lifetime together. If that is the goal — and it can be a worthy and beautiful goal — then this way of loving is not the course to chart. In fact, this kind of love has no course, no map, no goal — with the exception of the commitment to staying true to oneself and supporting that in the other. It is a relationship filled with uncertainty. It is an experience of love that may or may not go the distance in a romantic form, but will be nothing but deeply fulfilling as, if it’s done correctly, it can only be real and complete. It’s the only way, perhaps, to keep having that delicious feeling of falling in love — of being deeply seen and deeply seeing, and of embracing fully. The relationship may change shape or content or type, but it will always bring joy and discovery and evolution, because it's based on truth.