Three Lessons on Loving With an Open Heart.
I was talking to a friend recently. He has been with his girlfriend for several years and they are very much in love. She wants to get married and start a family. He would love to be married to her too….but only for about five years.
You see, as much as he loves his girlfriend, it is hard for him to imagine her being the last woman to whom he ever makes love. And he is not alone in that…
Men aren’t the only ones who stumble on this quandary. A female friend of mine, who has been married for about 10 years, shared a similar sentiment. She loves her husband very much. They have built a wonderful life together that includes children and relationships with friends and family. Yet, she struggles with the idea of never making love to another man. She struggles with the sameness of their sexual union.
This longing for fresh experiences led her to become involved in a month’s long flirtation with a man, a flirtation that would have developed into a physical relationship had her husband not caught wind of it and stopped it in its tracks.
The risk of losing his wife and the thrill of seeing her husband chase off her would-be-lover created a tension, attraction and passion between them that had been missing for years. They pursued couple’s therapy together and developed new love, intimacy, honesty and trust unlike they ever had.
All of that however, did not dissolve my friend’s yen for sexual novelty—only now she is no longer willing to break her marital agreement with her husband to get it, and she accepts that her husband is not willing to open their relationship to allow for her longings. The potential loss of her love and life with her husband now outweighs the still real pain of unquenched desire.
This brings me back to my reluctant-to-betroth male friend, when I asked him what he would be missing if he didn’t marry his girlfriend, his answer was simple.
“Intimacy” he said.
He would miss the intimacy of knowing and loving the same person deeply. He would miss the intimacy of someone being interested in and carrying the thread of his days. He would miss caring for and being cared for by another, year after year, and theoretically anyway, for the rest of his life.
In these times of contemporary relationships, any discussion of marriage comes with a corresponding discussion of divorce.
I asked my friend if part of his reluctance to get married is the fear of the heartbreak that could come from allowing someone to become precious to him, knowing he could lose that love?
His answer, “Oh, most definitely.”
And he is not alone in that either…
That is the beauty and the tragedy of giving one’s heart to one person. There is the potential for great love and great heartbreak, and as my friend said to me, “the farther you go into the relationship, the worse the pain would be.”
So what is the answer? Is the answer to play it safe? Is the answer to have strong connections with interesting people a handful of years at a time, long enough to enjoy some level of sustained contact and to create some satisfying memories together, but not long enough so that the person is able to penetrate past protective emotional layers?
Is that really loving? Is that really living?
Or is the answer to go all in? To risk it all, even if that means the sometimes painful sacrifice of personal pleasures and personal freedoms. To open one’s heart to get to experience, in the words of Robin William’s character in Good Will Hunting, Sean Maguire, “the good stuff,” for better or for worse?
Having been around the relationship mulberry bush a few times myself, I have been in the role of every person discussed in this article: I have been the one afraid to commit. I have been the one who wanted a commitment. I have been the one who longed for novelty and I have been the one who held my ground against intruders. Each role came with it its own challenges, and its own kind of heartbreak.
In the end, what I have learned is what the old adage teaches: It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.
But easier said than done, right? So what I now share are the three lessons I have learned (and continue to learn) about loving with a heart wide open:
Lesson 1: To love with an open heart begins with a commitment, a commitment to the practice of loving fully and completely.
Any relationship of quality that I have had began with the commitment to love the other person the best way I knew how. Once, while preparing for my first date with a man, I found myself thinking, “If someone is going to get hurt in this, it isn’t going to be me.”
I was struck by the jadedness of my own thoughts and by my premeditated plan to hold myself back from him. In the next moment I said to myself, “No, let it be me.”
What grew from there was one of the best relationships and greatest loves of my life, simply out of the commitment to love that man as open heartedly as I was able, each step along the way.
Lesson 2: Be Present.
This lesson has been said many times before, and for good reason. Love and aliveness exist in the present tense only. Fear brings us to the past and the future. When fear brings me to the past, I am trying to avoid some hurt I experienced before. When fear brings me to the future, I am trying to answer unanswerable questions like, “Is this relationship going to last?”—while simultaneously being afraid it will end and being afraid of that notion of forever.
But worrying about a love lasting forever is a little bit like (to borrow a phrase from Elizabeth Gilbert) trying to swallow the sun. That is not to say I don’t want a forever kind of love. Quite on the contrary, I do. The only way I can reasonable see achieving forever is to live and love fully one day at a time.
Lesson 3: No one ever died from a broken heart.
As painful as it is when a relationship ends, no one ever died from the pain. If anything, in the relationships when I did love another fully, not just until the end but through the end, those were the relationships that after all was said and done, after the resentments and regrets were washed away (of which there were far fewer than in the relationships in which I held myself back), all that was left was love.
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Ed: Brianna Bemel