Friends and Lovers and Picket Fences

Posted on 2013 January 10

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Often we ache for someone special, a “soul mate” — one will bring to our lives the love and acceptance we may lack in our daily world. I suspect a lot of this is simply a yearning to return to childhood, when our parents kissed our bruises and rocked us to sleep at night. As a young man, I wasted a lot of time (and a lot of ladies’ feelings) foolishly trying to find my mom in another woman — hoping, perhaps, that I could finally “get that relationship right”. I suspect many of us chart a similar course unawares, not realizing how damaging it can be to inflict one’s private dramas onto another person.

Years ago, I asked a friend, “What do women want?” He replied, “To sleep with their dads.” He was being flippant, but something about it rang true. Imagine a lover who brought us passion and the unconditional love we haven’t known since childhood (if at all): what a paradise that might be!

Yet, in undertaking such a quest, we’re just asking for trouble. For one thing, it’s kind of juvenile: we seek, in effect, someone who’ll take care of us emotionally. As well, this desire belittles, by comparison, every other relationship we have. The more desperately we search for it, the more lonely we make ourselves.

In America, we put a lot of stock in our intimate relationships, hoping for closeness, meaning, safety, and a tight-knit social circle. When people marry, they often disappear from friends, cocooning behind their white picket fences. In Europe, couples are more relaxed: they tend to retain their separate collections of friends and don’t rely as narrowly on their spouses for emotional support. Between us and them, it’s “nuclear versus network”, so to speak. You’d guess it was the Americans who’d be more free thinking, but a certain Puritan strain in our societal DNA has pointed us in the other direction. We’ve eased up in recent decades, but the desire to tuck ourselves away with one person (while sometimes neglecting our other friends) still exerts a tidal pull on our hearts.

Recently an acquaintance bemoaned the difficulty of finding someone special to share love with. A few random thoughts popped into my head: “If it’s so hard to find, how do we know it when we see it?” And: “Is it wise to put all our dreams into one such basket?” And: “How might we prepare ourselves for (or, perhaps, protect ourselves from) such an experience?” I wrote:

When you’re with your children, your friends, etc., remind yourself how much you love them. And remember that you love them for who they are, not for how they behave toward you. . . .

 A doctor with many female patients was asked how he managed to have such a wonderful manner toward them. He replied, “I pretend they are my daughter or my wife.” If we treat each person as if he or she is one of our most cherished, we’ll be bathed in the feelings we’d otherwise dole out sparingly for “someone special”.

 Easier said than done. But worth thinking about.

 Another story: a woman went to a religious retreat where adherents brought statues of their god and placed incense before them. Wanting to waste none of her incense on anybody else’s statue, she put a cone atop hers so the incense would touch only it. The statue became smudged with soot, making it especially ugly.

 Often we focus too much of our “incense” on our lovers, who grow dark from the grime of our anxiety. No matter how important a person is to you, that person must never be worth more than 49 percent of the value of your social life. The rest of the world — friends, relations, acquaintances — should own the majority of stock in your heart.

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