The Practice of Love

There is an unspoken rule when one finds oneself in a new relationship or renewing an old one: never tell the object of your affection that you love them too soon – or else.  Or else you’ll be putting unreasonable expectations onto the nature of your interactions, or you’ll frighten your beloved into an insincere, “I Love You Too” – only to find out somewhere down the line that the intensity of your feelings are not shared and never were.  That their commitment was just insubstantial words, and they have neither the capacity nor the courage to love anyone other then themselves.

Thus, “I Love You” seems left to be said only by those foolish enough to willingly put themselves in harm’s way, sans the bulletproof vest.

This aggravates me.  It aggravates me because I think this unspoken rule is a stupid rule, made even more inane tethered as it is to the assumption that somehow you’ll “just know” when the time right time is to say “I Love You.”  As if the “I Love You” phrase is a cycle of the moon, etched in some harvest calendar, or is some kind of mathematical formula that can be derived given the expectancy of X and the parameters of Y.

“I Love You” is risky, because love and living is risky.  There are no guarantees in this world (except death and taxes).  “I Love You” makes you vulnerable and foolish, and you end up kicking yourself thinking that somehow you should have known better.

But you do know better.  And there is no shame in that. There should never be any shame in loving.

So yes, love is foolish and risky.  And worse yet, it requires mindfulness and daily practice.  Any parent who loves their child knows full well the perils of loving that little person, the work it takes to be steadfast in your loving – even when you want to beat the snot out of their punked-ass little selves.  But not loving them is not an option.  And there is no expiration date to loving them because once you connect with that little person, once you let their presence, their breath, their life, intertwine with yours, there is no extraction formula to yank that love out.

So basically, I think you’re left with only two viable choices: pretend that love is not real and that your spiritual connection with a human being is a figment of your imagination; or, brace and arm yourself for battle.  Because while loving someone initially can be effortless, the fidelity of love is a hell of a lot trickier.  It requires being brave in the face of uncertainty, and showing kindness and compassion when your love is unreciprocated.  And this love fidelity may be one of the toughest things you’ll ever have to do.  But as I learned from my spiritual forefathers, it’s only love if you’re willing to bleed for it:

There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for a friend (John 15:13).

Whether it is a physical or metaphorical laying down of a life, both require submitting oneself to being vulnerable, to act in ways that the world may see as foolish.  But if we do not humble ourselves in the practice of loving, if we do not allow the earth of our soul to be broken to let in the sun and the rain, we will not grow in and with the love of another.

And in the end, it’s all about the daily practice of crazy, foolish love.  Don’t let anyone try to shame you and tell you otherwise.



“Duality” is from the Latin  “dualitas” and “dualis” meaning “two” or “dual.”   Dualities seem inherently to be the feeding ground for conflict and strife.  “Yes/No” — that duality right there can be the beginning of a knock-em down, drag ’em out fight.  “Hot/Cold” is another ripe source for a slew of unhappy people.  I find this duality fodder particularly true in the “love/hate” permutation.  Either you love a thing, or you hate it.  Either you love that dress, or you don’t.  Either you love red wine, or you can’t tolerate it.  Either you love her hair, or you can’t stand it.  And either you love someone, or you just don’t.  

But none of the above simplistic dualities are really a sustainable reality in everyday living.

While I may not love the dress, it’s actually kinda ok.  And while I usually love red wine, I don’t love it with vanilla ice cream.  Maybe his hair was amazing yesterday but today — it’s pretty banal.  And sometimes you really love someone one moment, and the next moment you’re frantically looking for the exit signs.  (Only to sneak back in once you’ve let your anxiety peter out of its own accord, of course.)

All this apparent gray and blurring of the duality lines, however, should not be cause for panic.  Indeed, I think this false expectation of life’s inherent duality wreaks absolute chaos in our lives.  In fact, I think it’s this false expectation of the duality of life and loving that is the true death knell in relationships.  Expecting clear dualities in relationships unnecessarily causes unreasonable demands on one another and ourselves.  We expect consistency and yes or no answers from life and the people and things in it.  And we expect those answers now, as if the answer we get can be locked in solitary confinement forever, condemned forever in its final resting place.  But reality is never that simple —  not in what we see, feel, think, or love.

Now I know full well that not knowing is anxiety producing to the max, and the foreshadowing of change can be scary as hell.  But I think the only sane, humane path is to let go of this unattainable dualistic construct of living, because if we cannot learn to live with uncertainty, we end up just punishing those sources of insecurity — whether it be ourself or someone else — to rid ourselves of the plague of doubt (see Hamlet, Act III, scene 1).

So essentially what I’m suggesting here is this: when you place that firm grip on someone’s wrist to to keep them from inflicting harm, don’t hold so tight that you can’t change direction and open yourself up for the embrace that may come instead.  It just might change your life’s journey for ever. The prospect of which I believe is a fate far better than solitary confinement.