Our loved ones will one day leave us. Friends get mad and change priorities. People move away. Even a great, long marriage can end in untimely death. There is no Forever Person, and it’s a painful truth to sit with. But it is also one of the most liberating truths to accept.
The myth of the Forever Person needs to be dismantled within our hearts not just because it believes in an impossible duration. Clinging to this myth also damages the goodness of a relationship while you have it, by warping how you perceive it and behave during the present moment. We want to believe in the Forever Person because we fear the unknowns of the future and need to imagine someone will always be there to face them with us, so we do harmful things to keep them by our sides.
This creates a relationship built on fear-based motivation, where we turn our partner into airbags that protect us from suffering. The fear of losing this airbag-protected future motivates us to act with clingy toxicity in the present, desperately hoping to prevent the airbags from breaking up with us before a car crash that may never even come. Imagine if every minute spent driving you lived in fear that the airbags snuck away during the night. It’s no way to live. And in this model, the breakup itself becomes the car crash you strain to prevent.
We cling, we grasp, we compromise too much, and we settle. We hand our power over to the airbags instead of building resilience within ourselves. Instead of confronting our own anxieties, we hungrily quiet them with love and affirmation from someone else.
We discover (often unconsciously) what we think motivates someone to stay with us, and we manipulate everyone involved by contorting ourselves to keep them coming. Do I need to be skinnier to keep them? Do I need to cook more to keep them? Should I dress less like myself to keep them? Do I need to be less depressed to keep them? Should I talk about my trauma less to keep them?
This is a relationship poisoned with insecurity and fear – and thus love is strained. It’s built on the addictive lie that partnership will protect us from the suffering of life. To be fair, suffering often feels easier when someone does it with you. And there’s no doubt that we are wired to live in and solve our problems together as a pack.
But this dilemma reminds me of that quote that goes something like “I wasted 90% of my life fearing outcomes that never came true.” We poison the present with anxiety because we imagine a future that we must constantly embrace for.
But this is not to say that the future won’t be hard and have great pains, we just can’t afford to live a life constantly bracing for the worst.
Rather, you must expose and dismantle the lie that hardship and pain are avoidable. They’re not. It’s Buddhism 101!
Things that might go wrong: You develop a chronic illness, your mom or best friend dies, you lose your savings, your car gets stolen, an earthquake cripples your city…
…Scary, right? Sit with that fear. Pick one of those happenings or something that really scares you, and really get curious about the fear. Don’t quiet the fear or circumvent it with distractions (love, drugs, sex, internet), but really sit with it. Don’t use toxic positivity or a spiritual bypass by saying “but I’ll get to the other side and be happy afterwards.” Life is not just the happy afterwards, but it is also the great pain before the afterwards. And it will be very hard.
Take ten deep breaths and sit with this moment. Recognize that it’s safe to sit with fear and that you don’t have to run away from it. The feeling itself is actually not that dangerous, is it? That thing you fear is a story in your imagination and a feeling in your body. Watch what happens when you sit with it and let it talk. Really listen to your fear and pain tenderly. Give it love and mourn with it.
You can keep coming back to this tender place and build a relationship to it. Take the time to lie down and cuddle your own fear and pain. Stroke your own hair. What has the fear needed in the past that you are taking the opportunity to give it now? Where does its hurt come from (parents, peers, etc.)? How has it been hungrily silencing itself?
That rich, loving friendship you’ll build with fear and suffering changes how you’ll want to spend your time in the now. When you surrender to the fact that things aren’t forever, their beauty multiplies tenfold because you only have them for some or many moments. When things and people finally come to leave, you say “of course, it must just be time.”
Only when we stop fearing pain and are ready to live within it can we enjoy a present not distorted by anxiety and fear of loss.
Only when we live peacefully aware of pain’s companionship can we stop reaching for addictive distractions from it. Only then can you love someone deeply and loosen your grip so tight that it damages their temporary visit to your life.
But note this: don’t miss out on deep connection just to protect your heart from a painful loss. That is just more avoidance of the inevitability of pain. We are evolved for collaboration, interdependence, and intimacy; so much so that we spend our lives looking for it and do everything we can to keep it. So seek it, stick with it as long as it serves you, love it, leave it, and stay always intentional and open to change.
Just tell yourself, “one day they will leave or they will die. It will hurt so much. But I’m already ready for it.”
By Sam Doubek, InsightLA Chief of Staff and Board Liaison