What happens when two worlds meet?
They touch. They kiss.
And we find that love is not only felt in the heart, it is known by the hands also.
That’s how most love stories begin. Not only in the storybooks, in real life – two people meet – each of us with our own unique world inside of us. A world, a unique physical, emotional and spiritual wildland in which we live and walk and experience all and everything in this life. With love, and through intimacy, we peel the layers of our bark, one by one, to unveil ourselves to our lover – so that we can deepen into more love, into more intimacy. That in itself – the relationship itself – is a wildland also. When we open to it, and to one another, like a flower, with an open heart, we enter the soul of the matter. And it’s so beautiful so discover one another, and to fall in love.
To feel seen, truly seen by the one we love. To be loved in a way so pure and deep and true. Because love is a seeing, a knowing, not of flesh, but through the flesh.
And yet, no matter how long we’ve been together or how much we think we know one another, a simple truth should be acknowledged, even if not fully understood. And that is – we will never fully know each other. There will always be parts of us, and of them, that will remain wild and unknown. And that’s okay. We were never meant to know it all anyway.
In its essence, true love is about acceptance.
I want you to be, as you are, as you need to. I want each day for you. I want each moment for you. I love your mere existence in my world, in my life, as you are, as it need be.
The myth of unconditional love isn’t that it doesn’t exist – it exists, and it is how true love is, was, and always will be – unconditional. The myth is that it frees us from any uncertainties, doubts, fears and hardships along the way. The misunderstanding comes when we fill our hearts with things of the mind – with the ideas, preconceptions and our own limiting beliefs and conditions. To make love real and as beautiful as it could be, we need our every day efforts of our lips, hands and hearts to shape it so.
The idea of unconditional love has become greatly misunderstood, as many other things, and it has unfortunately led some people to stay in unhealthy relationships because of this misunderstanding. Unconditional love doesn’t mean you should stay in something at the expense of your well-being; and it certainly doesn’t mean you should accept and tolerate harm, abuse, disrespect and mistreatment of any shape or form. No, you should never do that.
Walking away from what’s not good for you is love. Setting healthy boundaries is love. Discernment is love. Wanting and needing to receive is love. Understanding that you can’t “fix”, “change” nor “heal” anyone else unless they choose to want to do that is love. You have the equal right to be happy and taken care of and loved just as much as anyone else. Over-giving creates imbalances and you need to receive in turn also. The “unconditional” aspect of love refers to you just as much as to all and everyone else.
Ambivalence is love also.
Because in the totality of anything and everything is the ambiguity and ambivalence, the unknowing, and the humility that we don’t know it all. It’s trust.
What does ambivalence look like in our every day relationships?
“I want us to be together all the time” while also “I need some space”
“I want to spend forever with you” while also “I can’t do this anymore”
“I love you no matter what” while also “You’re driving me crazy doing this”
Belgian psychotherapist Esther Perel describes relationship ambivalence as the experience of contradictory thoughts and feelings—of love and hate, attraction and disgust, excitement and fear, contempt and envy—toward someone with whom we are in a relationship.
Sometimes we feel stuck in love, sometimes we are passionate, and sometimes we are bored. Within one marriage, there are perhaps a few marriages, as after every major change we will find a new way of relating, connecting and communicating, and we’ll thus enter a new phase. And yet there are so many in-betweens – liminal spaces where ambiguity is the only thing certain – and where ambivalence too lives.
Unconditional love isn’t free from uncertainty and doubts in our earthy experience of life. Ambivalence is a natural state – and it actually shows a state of being in which we are flexible to other experiences, thoughts and feelings. Through that openness, there is a release of pressure, and of self-criticism, self-judgment and self-guilt, that we have to feel a certain way all the time, no matter what.
We put so much pressure on ourselves and on this idea that in love we should accept it all, because if we don’t we are bad people who didn’t love enough. Finding “the one” does not mean no struggles ever – it means more harmony, yes, more depth of connection, yes, and better ability to navigate through hardships, yes, but not “never struggles or obstacles”.
For most people, unconditional love is an idea. And with idealization, or idolization, there will almost always come devaluation.
Passion is not absolute. Love is not absolute. Absolutism sinks us in the water like stones. The beautiful nuances and complexity of human nature are lost – and we eventually lose ourselves also. There is no growth. There is no expansion. We’ve sunk, deep into the water, like stones.
When we are idealizing someone, or some idea or thing, we are essentially paving the road to disappointment. It is also a reflection of our own version of ourselves – meaning that we are also prone to idealizing ourselves and being overly critical and judgmental when we make even the slightest mistake. Idealization and devaluation walk hand in hand.
In the context of relationships, when we have a fallout with someone this doesn’t mean we should negate everything prior, or devalue all our past good experiences and moments that we shared. This doesn’t imply we should go back to someone we don’t want anymore, or to someone who isn’t good for us, or who has hurt us, but moving away from them with grace and gratitude for times past and lessons perhaps learned, is by itself a whole different departure from a situation. It’s a healthy departure.
When we idealize, we limit ourselves and others to a consciousness that is actually incredibly biased – because it’s polarized and simply untrue. We also become easy preys to be controlled and manipulated because of this singular mindedness and inability to handle humanly faults and flaws that will inevitably happen. It is abandoning ourselves – because we are unable to truly accept and love ourselves and others as the imperfect humans that we are. Holier-than-thou perspectives are extremely limiting beliefs. As we leave space for the unknown and the complexity of things, and the nuances of human beings, expansion and growth happens.
We can’t understand unconditional love unless we can truly hold the complexities and nuances together. Love dissolves all boundaries and allows and accepts, yes – but love isn’t an “idea”. For most people love is the idea of the end-all, perfect, absolute things we long for – the thing that will sweep us off our feet, away from all things bad and from all tears of the heart.
Eventually, after the honeymoon phase is over, and we’ve come back down to earth, things may not always be pretty and as think they should be. Our “till death do us part” wasn’t just vows, it was a plan. And what happens when that plan starts to shake a little? What happens when we are not meeting each other’s needs all the time? What happens when our two worlds start to clash because we find out we are just different creatures from different wildlands? How do we reconcile our relationship into peace without automatically leaving at the first sight of trouble, or “not how it was supposed to be”?
Love doesn’t hurt. But we are human, and as human beings, we have our insecurities, doubts, issues, biases, and we make mistakes. And emotions wave in and out of ourselves – we like each other, we annoy each other – and when we annoy each other, does that mean we should separate? One of the most challenging things will be to hold this ambivalence of still loving our partner even when we’ve felt hurt. And this is an uncomfortable feeling. Heavy, it makes us question if we made the right choice to be with them.
Ambivalence is perhaps a form of radical acceptance. We sit with uncomfortable feelings, and take it one step at a time, without any guarantees. We learn, through deep convertations and listening, and hopefully with a rhythm of kindness, how to navigate the liminal spaces. We learn to trust, that even if we don’t know or even like all parts of our partner, that doesn’t mean we won’t make it work. Because maybe it’s actually healthy not to justify everything about them – that when they do something we don’t like, it is okay to say we don’t like it – that it is okay to love someone while sometimes not really liking them. And that it is okay to be in our moody cocoons, but that doesn’t mean it’s the end. Sometimes we just need patience, and space to free our hearts from the things of the mind.
Because we can’t love when our hearts are filled with things of the mind. In our modern day, relationships have become just another thing for instant gratification. With such mentality, and unreliastic expectations of people, the moment the “it” doesn’t give us what it “should have”, we discart it. Is it possible for us to learn to love without the idea of demand or gratification?
Love is not fear, is not jealousy, is not possession, is not controlling, is not prejudice, is not judgment, is not criticism, is not absolutism, is not duty, is not guilt, is not self-pity. Love is not the opposite of hate any more than humility is the opposite of vanity. Wash away these thoughts and beliefs like rain washes the dust of many days and months off the leaves. And perhaps then, we may see the strange mystical flower that we have always longed for and hungered after. There is beauty, real beauty, which comes upon us like tenderness that softens us, like seas in which we flow, when the heart and mind finally understand what love is. Because without love, there is no virtue found in any beauty. Love has no shoulds. The mind comes upon love without discipline, without books, without force, without thought – the way we come upon the beautiful seas and the beautiful sunset.
When two people meet and fall in love, they essentially allow themselves to be stirred entirely by the wildish soul of the other. Out of their love – a new soul will be born: the soul of the relationship. Along its wild pathways, they will walk. And there will be uncertainties, frailties, doubts and obstacles, as these are the cycles of any land, ours, theirs, and the whole. But will patience, love, trust, deep compassion and understanding, hand in hand, they will inevitably learn to hold and to navigate through the wild unknowns of the ambivalence that relationships sometimes demand of us.
Love is not the white fence of the dream house – sometimes it is as primitive as learning how to build, and re-build, fire in the wilderness, to keep us warm and close during the winter or drought seasons. It is understanding the need to dedicate our effort into one another every day – with hands, lips and hears to shape our love into being – and to choose one another and court one another every day. The house, the fence and the ideas of the mind, are not what will bind us for a lifetime; it is our ability to adapt in any climate and adjust through the changing shapes as we walk along the wilderness – to find our way towards each other.
For more of my writings, browse through my Art of Love.
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Cover art by Charles Vess, "The King of The Summer Country and His Bride of Flowers".