A friend recently confided in me her dilemma of her undefined relationship, and it inspired me to think about the subject of love and relationships and how they relate to everything impermanent.
Most of our conventional understanding of romantic love is rooted in attachment. How do we label what we are? Where are we going? What is our future? Beneath these questions is the underlying theme: What is in this for me? What am I going to get out of this?
I think love is something that does not have to be guarded so closely. Love is not a habit in which you have to follow for fear of falling off the wagon. Love is not a chain that ties you up. Love is free. It is not earned as it is not worked hard for. It just is. What love looks like changes over time, as with all things that grow and evolve. To expect that love to remain the same is not love; it is holding yourself and the other person captive. There is nothing to get out of it except to feel that love and hold the joy of that love in your heart. Anything less than that-- or more than that-- is attachment or possession or addiction.
Full love, complete love, unconditional love happens when there is a willingness to show the complex parts that make up who you are, and in return, the vulnerability of accepting the other person even as you cannot change or control or even completely understand the other person. Initial feelings of excitement are just infatuation, but it is the tenderness and gentleness and kindness that remain long after that excitement that breeds the ground for love.
To be in a state of love is to acknowledge that what you feel is yours, and if you so choose to express it, is a gift you give without expecting anything in return. To be in a state of love is to hold this person kindly in your eyes, and to allow this person to freely choose how to accept your gift. To be in a state of love is to be able to allow that love to stand on its own; words or actions are welcome but not always necessary. Love is not demanding; only possession is.
Commitment and love are two different things. One can love without commitment, as one can commit without love as well. They are independent, and in some circumstances interdependent-- sometimes, but not always. How is it that relationships come and go, and what once felt like love turn into bitterness or indifference? How can one feel so much and have that intensity transform into nothing? Perhaps it was never love. It was an attachment disguised as love, a contract of terms with conditions, a possession holding the other person to one's expectations.
To be in love-- in the truest sense of the word-- necessitates that the giver of love is filled with love, needing nothing, clutching on to no one, hungry for no one's attention. Otherwise, what we mistake as love is only a number of things: an unconscious game to win over someone's approval, a band-aid to patch up one's emptiness, a distraction to keep one from looking into the difficult questions of one's own life. All dysfunctional relationships are not love; they are the opposite of it-- a relentless taking centered on one's own selfish desires to possess.
Love is impermanent in its form. People change as feelings waver and life happens. Love can grow or diminish or change roles or intensify or mellow down. Much of our dilemma is about wanting things to remain the same, or turn out according to our own desires, or contain it into a mold that does not fit. Most of our energy is spent focusing on the object of that love. We so easily forget that the love comes from us, that because we are capable of it, we will never be without it. We will not be incapacitated when our expectations are not met. It is brave to love at a time when everyone else is asking: What do I get in return? To feel love itself is the return. Very few of us get that love is not about possession. But when we do, we will realize we need nothing from anyone, not even and most especially not from the object of our love. And then, our love will truly set us free. It means we are alive with the fire of life and the tenderness of our heart.