Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Most Important Word

Lights on at Dusk

My new friend Amber said something very interesting the other day.  We’d been discussing Ayn Rand’s philosophy and The Virtues of Selfishness, and Amber said, “To say ‘I love you,’ one must first be able to say the ‘I.’"  Which, it turns out, is an Ayn Rand quote.

Intriguing!  It got me thinking: for me, what’s the most important word in that phrase?  And if I can even pick a single word, why?  Why is one word more important than the others?

I like Rand’s take on the issue.  I do.  It reminds me of something I heard on a podcast in regard to polyamory, but I think it’s true in most, if not all, romantic relationships.  50% of your relationship’s success depends on you: you gotta get your act together.  Know thyself.  Understand what you need, what you want, and how to ask for those things.  40% of your relationship is choosing a good partner.  That person has to have his or her act together.  And maybe 5-10% is structure, logistics, and circumstances.  The idea that you have so much to say about your own happiness in love and life is tremendously empowering.  I like it!

I’m not an Ayn Rand scholar, so I’m using her work as a jumping off point here.  Her statement about love fits well with her description of selfishness as rational self-interest, which is to say that we do things for our own sake, not solely for the benefit of others.  And if we do do things to please others, we ought to do so because it pleases us to please others.  Therefore, in love, the sum total of our experience should make us happy.  And if it doesn’t, there’s something wrong.

I think when I was younger, I struggled more with the “I.”  I let myself get sucked into my boyfriend’s orbit, while he showed little interest in mine.  But now, at 31 and with adult responsibilities, I have no desire to get swept up in someone else’s life.  I’m interested in partnership, not losing myself in romance.

I’ve never had a problem with the “you” part of “I love you.”  I’ve always dated good men, even if they were less-than-ideal partners for me.  So that leaves me with the middle: “love.”  That, I think, is the most important word for me right now.

Years ago, my sister-in-law said something very wise about love.  She said that we have to learn how to love people.  She meant it in the romantic sense of the word, and I think I’ve made big strides toward a healthier, more fulfilling approach toward love.  Here I thought I’d share a few of the lessons I’ve learned.

* Only date people who have a strong sense of empathy.  Empathy is the key to compassion, which in turn allows for healthy attachment.

* Trust your initial impressions.  Thinking back on the men I’ve dated, I can remember most of those first impressions, and they were spot-on.

* Cultivate your ability to hold on and let go.  It’s a beautiful thing, being able to set off on an adventure and come back to the one(s) you love.

* Be honest.  Even if it’s scary.  I cannot stress this enough.  BE HONEST.

* But beware of radical honesty.  Do you know what radical honesty is?  It’s telling the truth all the time, no matter how brutal the message or the delivery.  I feel radical honesty is a bludgeon, not a tool, and believe there are more compassionate ways to talk about problems.  Which brings me to my next point…

* Recognize that partnership is about problem-solving.  Choose a good problem-solver!  Especially if you think you might raise children with someone, you’ll want a partner who can think both rationally and creatively about problems.

* Believe that you deserve love.  This one sounds really basic, but it’s worth spelling it out.

* Choose the love that calls for you to be your best self.  I believe that we come together into relationships to shape each other into the best people we can be.  Along those lines…

* Let yourself be shaped by love.  Paul and I are learning how to be partners.  We’re doing pretty well, and I think part of that is recognizing that we’re learning how to do this thing we’ve started.  At the risk of saying something controversial, I think dating and relationships are a lot easier if we are open to another person’s influence.  If you aren’t open to learning and growth, I’m not sure you should be dating.  (Opposing opinions welcome here!  But if so, I’m curious how you approach dating.)

And there you have it: a theory of love in a single blog post.  Happy day to you!

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