photo by Phil Eastman
Last night I was conversing with a friend about the desire to “fix” someone in a relationship. It’s a common source of hardship in love. As we grow closer to our partner, we learn of their struggles, vulnerabilities and shame, and being empathic creatures (as I believe is true of most humans) we begin to wish to help them heal these wounds.
Except we can’t. Plain and simple. We do not have the power to heal another through sheer will. We can offer support, encouragement, be the best cheerleader we can be, but the ego cannot change until it is willed to do so.
And this is where further complications occur. Because falling in love is such a swoon within the deepest parts of the soul. It can deceive the self into thinking that this person, this loving presence, has healed every fractured element within us.
Over time, as comfort and predictability seeps in, we remember all the internal struggles we’d put aside. We remember the fears from childhood, or the discerning words of a parent or teacher. We remember pain, shame or guilt. And in our own selfish way we become frustrated with our partner because, dammit, they were supposed to make all this shit go away. And life has conspired, yet again, to remind us that the change only comes from within. That no external force – career, love, money – can ease the existential woes of being human. That journey is constant, ever requiring our attention and focus and care.
So, how do we learn to love without making it our responsibility to fix? Perhaps it comes in our expectations of love. Perhaps it starts with us meeting others as truly autonomous creatures, capable of wildly colorful growth in their own selves, in their own spirits. Maybe it comes down to learning to hold space, to bear witness, and to be vulnerable as an onlooker. Then, perhaps, we will learn to not expect miracles from another, and shame them when they cannot deliver. The poetry, it turns out, comes in accepting the uncertainty within one another; in accepting that we can only transform the self, and nothing more.