On Love, Sweet Love: What’s Up With Relationships—Including Endings—in Our Lives These Days

On the age-old subject of love and relationship, I feel like beginning with a little poem. But not the sweet old “roses are red” kind.

I Knew a Good Man, Darling

I knew
a good man
who couldn’t
relish spring
and the sweetness
blooming
in his garden.

Relax, my
love, enjoy,
I teased,
laughed, whispered,
pleaded.
Shouted.

Then
I realized
a piece
was
missing,
a promise:

I am yours
and will
never leave you,
darling.

Or, sweeter:

I’ll only go
if you
want me
to,
and
if you
want to go,
I’ll say,
          ‘go,
darling.’

— Teresa Young

Love is a helluva drug

The dance of love and relationship is like nothing else. Love really is a helluva drug. There’s nothing more mysterious than love. Nothing more maddening. Nothing that’s ultimately more of a secret.

Yes, I’ve been feeling for years that every love relationship is a secret. No one outside of any two-person tango can truly know its nuances, how the partners move together.

No one really knows the relationship’s inner climate, including its inevitable dark patches and desert places. Whether or not it’s ultimately a place of mutual growth, of rest, of self-expression. Of comfort and delight. All that we hunger for and deserve. Though of course there are certain toxic non-matches that become obvious to everyone.

But does a committed love relationship really have to include so much? Or is commitment itself, that willingness, more important than partners being all things to each other? Indeed, is being “everything” to one soul even possible? Or healthy?

We could also acknowledge that love and commitment are really two separate topics. Though in modern western culture, where we’re so free to choose commitment and to change our hearts and minds, I say that successful, long-term, committed love is a rich, ever fascinating focus and goal. And note that I skipped the word marriage. Why leave any committed love relationships out?

 

Is being “everything” to one soul
even possible, or healthy?

Let’s face it, loving in modern life is wild, wild, wild.

I just re-connected with a friend from my early twenties. Talk about modern love stories! History. Memories. Trauma. Drama. Resignation. Beauty. He moved me with personal and familial tales of love, loss, anger, and acceptance. And, yes, mystery.

Because nothing may be more mysterious than the chemistry that ignites a love relationship. The way it can transport us and take us over. The way it can cause us to blow up whatever currently exists, then seem to vanish irretrievably later.

There’s truly little in life that’s more interesting to me. I’ve been reflecting for years on how we love, here and now, in the 21st Century. And on what we’ve learned from everything we’ve experienced. Especially those of us who were post–World War II babies, with more time to live and reflect than our youngers have had so far.

This new love frontier is real.

My fellow Baby Boomer friend’s recent call left me pondering again the relationship between modern romantic love and long-term commitment. Between compatibility and individual identity. I’m reflecting anew on the truth that many of my own intensely personal life choices have shaped and are still shaping my children’s—and grandchildren’s—lives in profound ways.

And of course this was always the case. Relationships ended. Divorce was a thing. But we Boomers blew the lid off of couples staying together due to traditional taboos that once kept family life stable. The end of World War II changed so much, and then the Sixties rocked to the core what was once predictable domestic and family life.

Did we invent a deep need for authenticity in loving, and the expectation that intense intimacy should last over the long haul of committed relationship? Evidently these big ideas were rolling in like slow-growing waves from a far shore as some of us Boomers were being born.

Then, as the Sixties gave way to the Seventies, psychedelic new atmospheric conditions settled in that still affect the emotional weather of our lives five decades later. “Roses are red, violets are blue, sugar is sweet and so are you” gave way to “It Ain’t Me” and “Love the One You’re With.”

We’re growing as we go.

Now that many survival-based and institutional reasons for long-term commitment have fizzled, our modern ways of being in love and relationship are necessarily evolving anew. We’re in R&D, exploration-and-growth mode, experiencing and managing emotional, ethical, and logistical conundrums that force our radical growth.

Maybe loving is more courageous than ever in the face of evolutionary arcs that take at least decades, if not half-centuries, with spectacular odds for failure in the meantime. Though a bit of good news is that the moorings we lost were mainly masculine. Maybe feminine values, wisdom, energy, and empowerment are finally settling in.

And I don’t mean settling in to replace the masculine, but rather to dance with it in new ways, toward fresh language, images, and models for loving one another, and for raising children enjoyably in hybrid forms of family. And no, I don’t think that’s magical thinking. It’s happening all around us. This is where we are.

It’s complicated.

But how does any of this aid us right here, right now, with our complex commitments and histories? Well, I say an evolutionary context helps us proceed with dignity and grace. We’re all learning and growing. And any good work that we do in the realm of relationship aids us, everyone around us, and those who will come after us. We’re discovering and modeling what’s possible.

So the quality of our consciousness matters deeply in handling the complications of modern love. We can bring our most gentle best to our personal choices. Ultimately, reflecting on and taking real responsibility for our choices are gifts that keep on giving, helping us to learn from our experiences, make sense of our lives, and make peace, first within our own hearts, then with those around us.

That which ends also matters

Yes, let’s go there, to the fact that in the realm of love and relationship, many, many well-intentioned commitments end. There’s a normality to it all these days. Though the statistics aren’t actually as awful as the 50% divorce rate we’ve been hearing about for the past few decades. That’s partly because committed GenXers are staying together longer so far than Boomers did, and millennials are proceeding with caution.

But we’re exploring so much in relationship these days, including or especially ourselves. Exploring our own growth. Along the way, committed relationships, for all their beautiful beginnings, do often end. And yes, I say those endings matter. They matter a great deal.

As daunting as this may sound in any given situation, I say it’s in fact essential that they’re done well, with kindness and gentleness, honoring both what was and what is. It’s possible. The truth really does set us free.

Of course, even aided by gentleness, endings burn like hell. But the pain burns cleanest when we’re as kind to one another as possible in the process. It helps us heal. And heal we do.

Because life is long, and we want—we are determined—to love and be loved well. The truth is that our expectations are often astronomical! And just like every other form of freedom in our 21st century lives, we’re as free in the realm of love as we believe ourselves to be. Free to pursue what we want most.

 

It’s essential that endings
are done well. And it’s possible.

The how of it all matters.

In the midst of our perhaps dizzying power of choice these days, I’m profoundly interested in how we care for one another and ourselves along the way. What’s more, I believe that doing so is one of our most important—most sacred—opportunities.

So I say if you’re in the throes of something immense in the realm of love, take your time. Get and stay attuned to what’s truly healthy for you and others. And proceed gently, oh, so gently, with everyone, including yourself.

Take the long view, with the goal of being satisfied with your approach when you look back on this juncture four or five years from now. Really. Sit with that a bit. Slow your roll while you reflect as deeply as possible. You can do it.

I often refer struggling couples or individuals to the movie It’s Complicated, with Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin. It’s a comedy, but there’s so much truth in it. What I love is that throughout the plot’s twists and turns, with all that’s ultimately to be and not to be, the emotional tone is gentle, gentle, gentle.

In such profound matters of the heart, I say we must aspire to the same these days. It’s truly time for that level of evolution. For that kind of self-responsibility and indeed greatness as individuals with so much freedom to do love and relationship however we choose.

Love is a hero’s journey.

It’s also essential to keep in mind that life-changing junctures are 180° different for the one(s) leaving and the one(s) being left. Because only in rare, blessed situations are those decisions truly mutual.

Either way, consider it a hero’s journey, complete with darkness, seemingly impossible tasks, unexpected help, and ultimately transformation. Think Luke Skywalker. Or Princess Leia. Bring your best to it. Be your own hero in dark moments. You can do it.

Support matters.

And in doing this heroic work, call on the resources you need. Examples include relationship coaching or therapy, even or especially for endings, along with your own individual coaching or therapy, and expert support for young ones.

This is very, very important. Consider it targeted training for you and yours in processing big feelings and experiences in healthy ways. Training with lifelong benefits.

Search for low-cost options if you need them. You and yours deserve expert assistance in life-changing seasons, toward minimal trauma all around and truly healthy forward movement.

Further, it’s especially important that you ensure, as captain of the ship of your own individual growth,  that you won’t need to repeat painful lessons later. This love hazard happens when we leap from one relationship to the next without taking time to learn, personally, whatever was to be learned.

This is so human, and has always been an easy error to make. And the suffering it creates can last lifetimes, across generations. The antidote? That evolutionary approach, in which your good work is a gift that keeps on giving.

 

Don’t repeat painful lessons
because you didn’t learn
what was to be learned.

 

Bottom line, regarding the perhaps maddeningly potent drug of love, challenge yourself. Insist that your best self lead. Then take comfort in your own growing capacity for healthy, committed love relationship, including “doing family” in peaceful, satisfying new ways.

Because exploring modern love and relationship in new ways is in fact necessary these days. We’re finding what rings true for us here, now, on the wild, wonderful journey of 21st century life.

In conclusion

Here’s to the nobility and the courage of loving on this brave new frontier. Especially as we know it includes heartbreaking junctures, turning points with lifelong ramifications, and family lore as poignant as any Oscar-worthy screenplay.

So proceed kindly. Take your time, armed with expert support. You and yours deserve all that you long for and want most, including peace and love in your hearts, in your household, and in households that expand or become two.

Make it all good by doing your own epic, evolutionary work. It’s up to you. And may the Force be with you.