In my last article I started a list of things I wish Church leadership would teach members of the YSA demographic instead of, or at least in addition to, the constant pressure to get married. This list is mostly ideas I’ve learned over time from reading books on widely different topics. This article is a continuation of those points I thought were important and should be taught to young single adults. If you haven’t yet read part one of this article, please read it and follow along.
In the last article, I left off talking about the “vastness” that exists between even the closest people that is essential to a healthy relationship. To be close, yet far apart is one of those beautiful paradoxes romance is made of. Now that we understand what it means to protect the solitude of our partners, let’s explore what it means to be truly close.
- This vast, sacred distance between two people is not meant to be an emotional distance. Rilke, Gibran, and Ruiz were not making the argument that we alienate ourselves from our partners. On the contrary, the point is to allow yourself to be seen entirely for who you are. The sacred space between two people in love could be interpreted as those elements of self that make each partner a unique individual. The point of this space is to not have to give up individuality or a sense of self to have functioning relationships, but instead have authenticity and honesty in a relationship.
This sacred space cannot be acknowledged or understood if people in a relationship do not intimately know each other. This next bit of advice is simple, but not very easy to practice. Be transparent, not opaque. Let yourself be seen, even—perhaps especially—the parts of your past or personality that you’re ashamed of. Being transparent takes a lot of courage and vulnerability, and real love does not exist without it. Truthfully, anything worthwhile will require courage and vulnerability, and romantic love is no exception.
C. S. Lewis said it best when he wrote, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
Remember what Don Miguel Ruiz said about love and happiness. It is not being loved that makes people happy, it’s sharing the love they already have inside themselves. The vulnerability C.S. Lewis talks about here is the willingness to love others with our whole selves, which requires transparency, courage, and the risk of getting hurt, but the potential rewards for our vulnerability is connection, joy, and acceptance.
- C. S. Lewis’ point about being vulnerable is so important. What often holds us back from this crucial practice of vulnerability, what he describes as the “coffin of our selfishness,” is all about shame. Shame is the age-old plague of humankind. It is the mountain we wish to crawl under. Shame is what tells us to protect ourselves from the risk of transparency. We’ve been hurt before, so why let it happen again? Like rational human beings, we wear emotional steel-plated armor, blocking out the rest of the world because there are parts of ourselves we don’t want others to see. This way of living life—or not living it—may sound enticing because it does not involve the risk of getting hurt, but it simultaneously cuts us off from connection, creativity, joy, and love. Shame is a good relationship’s kryptonite.
So, let’s talk about the sociologist and researcher Brene Brown. Brene Brown’s work is all about shame and vulnerability. If you are at all interested in learning more about these topics, I highly recommend watching Brene Brown’s Ted talks, reading her books, then freaking out and having a meltdown once you realize how much of your life has been wasted on shame. Here’s an excerpt from Brene Brown’s TED talk, “Vulnerability is kind of the core of shame, and fear, and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.”
Notice how Brene Brown and C.S. Lewis’ ideas go hand-in-hand. They are both preaching the same concept that vulnerability as opposed to emotional distance are what make love possible. How this translates to a romantic relationship comes down to this: will we let ourselves be seen? How willing are we to let our partner see even the most vulnerable parts of ourselves that we keep hidden from the world, the parts of us that we think disqualify us from deserving love and belonging? This can be scary beyond belief. But imagine the joy of showing these parts to someone and being accepted and loved for those things we thought disqualified us from being accepted and loved. Imagine how freeing it would be to accept someone in this way, and be accepted. This is love.
- Any poetry-based commentary on love would be incomplete without including some words from Jelaluddin Rumi. Rumi is a Persian poet from the 13th century. The fact that he is still widely read in today’s Western world is a testament to how timeless and beautiful his poetry is. The American poet Coleman Barks, who famously made a long career of interpreting Rumi’s poetry wrote in the preface to one of his published translations of Rumi’s work, “This love poetry is meant to obliterate you lovers. Rumi wants us to surrender. I bow to the grandeur of his full prostration.”
You see, Rumi was a Muslim. The word Muslim literally means “one who submits.” Rumi teaches us how to submit to Love in his poetry. Bow to Love. Drink Love’s wine. Dance to Love’s music. This is what one learns from Rumi’s poetry; Rumi urges the reader toward the kind of vulnerable, happy love we’ve been talking about. Here is a brief Rumi poem:
“The minute I heard my first love story
I started looking for you, not knowing
how blind that was.
Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere.
They’re in each other all along.”
Here’s another quick Rumi poem:
“When the ocean comes to you as a lover,
marry, at once, quickly,
for God’s sake!
Don’t postpone it!
Existence has no better gift.
No amount of searching
will find this.
A perfect falcon, for no reason,
has landed on your shoulder,
and become yours.”
I’ll end with this: the main message I get from Rumi’s poetry, and many of the other great poets, is don’t wait. This may be one of the big points about romantic love that Church leaders and poets would agree on. If you’ve found someone you can love with vulnerability, vastness, transparency, and courage, don’t wait. Even if that person is just yourself. It is never too soon to surrender your whole heart to love.
Thank you for reading.