Love is not a fixed point.
It cannot be planned or determined or even chosen, at least at the start. We can set our course to follow the North Star, but do we have a way of mapping the trajectory of love? And if we can map it, how can we live our lives guided by its path when that path is hardly fixed?
Perhaps it seems overly convoluted to think of love in terms of direction and maps. Perhaps some of us take an it is what it is position when it comes to matters of the heart, practicing non-attachment from the course or the outcome. It seems like it would be easier to be that kind of person than the kind that overthinks everything. But here I am.
And I am thinking in terms of maps and directions because it has occurred to me that during our lives we often love different people at different times, and our feelings are subject to change as we grow. Additionally, we can have an idea in mind of when we’d like to fall in love or the type of person we’d like to fall in love with and yet the reality of love is that we are often surprised by it. We can be surprised at when it happens: it can take a long time or seem like it’s too soon or come at the most inconvenient of times. And we have no control over who loves us back and who walks away from us without a second thought. So it brings me back to the question: Can we map it?
I think that we can mark its place once it happens, and from there, we can only follow the trajectory of that particular love story. We can see it from its beginning to its conclusion, however long it lasts. We can trace the choices we make that affect the direction of our love, and if we don’t like where it’s headed, we have the autonomy to change our own thoughts and behaviors to guide it in a more desirable direction.
I’ve mapped love in my life. I’ve mapped the one where I chose to follow the predictable path, doing what was expected at each stage along the way. And when absence and neglect took over that relationship, I worked hard to steer the course back to longevity, only to discover that the only choice that was left to me was to leave and start again.
I mapped the love that was so completely unexpected that it stole my breath and made me lose focus of how far I’d come. I watched myself rise and fall at his whimsy and felt myself sliding backward into the void, finally reaching out trembling hands to grasp for purchase in my life. I mapped the end of it, the place where he walked away while I climbed, shaken and shaking from the void to start over once again—stronger this time.
And then I mapped again a love that came only when I had settled into peace. It’s a love I continue to map, learning the path because never before has anything come to me softly or easily or taken into account the whole of my person, wanted and accepted just as I am. So I’m learning new routes and new landmarks, taking each of them as they come to, and breathing through the ones that are unfamiliar.
Maybe we can’t map when it happens or who it is we love, but we can map where it goes and the part we play in that. We can tell our stories and choose only to stay in the love that is returned. We can walk away from the relationships we call love that only bring us harm, that make us feel like we are not enough and never will be, that leave us aching for more.
And we can map the love in our lives that we so often seem to discount as less-than. The familial love. The platonic love. The love for ourselves, which I hope is shiny and bold and as passionate as our love for others. We can map out how our choices shape those loves, too, and we can make new choices when the route starts to meander in undesirable directions. Because we are, in fact, the navigators of our lives.
The question becomes: How do we set our course by love? If we can map it from the start, how can we make sure that we’re living our lives guided by love?
First of all, we can remember that love shouldn’t be hurting us. If we’re wrapped up in anxiety every moment of a relationship, that’s not a love we should be guided by. I’d even venture to say that sometimes that isn’t love at all or is simply an unrequited one that will never leave us fulfilled by its presence. As an addendum to that, if the person who claims to love us physically or emotionally harms us, we need to get out now. Go without hesitation. This is not a love we should keep in our lives.
We can remember that love isn’t always easy either. Sometimes love requires work. I once defined a successful relationship as containing communication, compromise, commitment, and choice, and I still maintain that these are elements of relationships that just work. We can’t expect every aspect of our love to be breezy simply because relationships combine two different people with different experiences and backgrounds. Like any relationship, effort has to be made to stay the course.
Most importantly, we listen to our intuition. We learn to quiet the extraneous noise in our own heads and in those around us, and we begin to listen to our hearts, and speak from our intuition. We learn to sense discomfort in ourselves when the choices we’re making aren’t consistent with our values or our love. We learn to breathe through these moments and to choose new paths that bring us back to the desire of our hearts, whatever that may be.
To watch our dreams merge with reality, we must learn from the trajectory of loves both past and present. And we must set a course that is guided by love. We make choices every day that bring us closer to our dreams or further from them, and we have a responsibility to listen to our intuition and allow it to help us stay on track. We cannot plan out our love or choose who we’ll love or who will love us back. But we can choose every day to live with love as our intention and never settle for less than a life filled with love. For ourselves as much as for others.
Author: Crystal Jackson
Editor: Travis May