“The light at the end of the tunnel”: A Reflection on “Real Love”
If there is anything that my lovely friend Shari is, she is a believer. Shari believes that excellence is not only possible, but that it is a state that can be consistently occupied in all of our work as humans. She believes that there is resolution for pain. Shari believes in love that heals and elevates and produces insight. So when she approached me about writing an article about my “serious” relationship, I knew that what she really was after is the story of what happens when you find that love, the love that resolves dilemmas and offers peace. And she wanted to know what happens even if you haven’t found it yet, but can see it and know it is possible.
To be honest, I don’t know that I can deliver on all counts. What I do know for sure is that what is between my partner and I, is the most honest and genuine love I’ve ever encountered. This is love built on solid commitment to set aside fear, to collaborate and witness, and most of all, a commitment to create the life we want and the love we need, no matter how hard, inconvenient or impossible it ever gets. But I would never call what we have a precedent, a model or even advisable. This is just ours.
What is love but a demand, a call to live in deference to a different set of allegiances than what our base instincts suggest? What is love except to believe even when you ache, to comprehend the subtle difference between weakness and vulnerability and see the value in both, to dream that the world could bring forth the things you ask from it, even now?
Right before I met my partner, I was casually dating a very nice man who I’d met at a grocery store. Let’s call him Michael. Michael was attractive, had a decent job, no kids, gave me kisses and adored me almost immediately. What he did especially well was convince me that it was okay to be single. It may not be this way for other women, but in my experience, this is the kind of relationship that a search for a boyfriend will most consistently produce. The focus on finding someone to give you Valentines Day flowers and calls on your birthday and the kind of adoration and consistency ascribed to couples kissing on the subway, can detract from a focus on what really matters to your lasting joy, it can make changing your online relationship status feel more important than the relationship itself.
I think it’s also important to say that by the time I’d met this guy, I’d already experienced a wide range of what men have to offer, from rose petal bubble baths to bruises on the arm, from curses, lies and slammed doors to slow easy talk in the park and shopping for rings. But by the time Michael and I stopped talking, which was about two weeks before I met my partner, I was done dating. I was done looking for a boyfriend. I was after something different. I wanted to know if there could be friendship.
I wanted to know if maleness could be a healing energy. I had experienced the other side. I felt that there could be another dimension to the interplay of male and female and eventually, I arrived at the word partner. I wanted a man whose example I would be inspired by. I wanted to know if a man could protect, love and talk to me the way that my girlfriends and I talk and the way men speak to other men, which is as an equal, with mutual respect and the consistent expectation that whatever I have to say and who I am is worthwhile and interesting. Even if the language would be different, which I was sure it would be coming from a man, I wanted to know if that kind of exchange were possible and if it was, I prayed for God to show it to me.
I call my love a lot of things, but most significantly, he is an answer. All my life I have known on some level that what we have was possible, but I never got a chance to practice it, to try to live it, before him. He is not God, nor the answer to the question of how to make my life meaningful or joyous; he is just a man and he is not without his own problems. But he has supported me in growing to a new level of maturity and self-love. He has presented as necessary in ways that are decisively not about being my husband or boyfriend, but being my partner, being on the support team that is helping me to grow into the woman I want to be. The first time I kissed him, it felt like completion. It feels that way every time.
The two years that my partner and I have been together have been marked by unimaginable pain, brutal power struggles, the kind of shit that makes it hard to move, that makes you have to remind yourself to keep breathing. I believe that part of the reason I fell in love with him so quickly was because I needed some deep kind of emotion to make me unafraid of the many tears I was going to cry in the journey to build what we have, to continue building it. Not all of this is his fault. We met in a place and a moment in my life when my most important accomplishment was eliminating suicide as an option. So I have to say that my partner is, to me, unending beauty, but I think a large part of the reason why we have lasted is that he has been a positive part of my therapy and my journey to accept myself. I’ve never been this naked with anyone else, which means that he can see me when I’m struggling within and against my own mind, to accept myself, to believe in him, or to just believe. I think collaboratively with my partner, which is something that I’ve never done with a man before. I let him see how I arrive at conclusions and I tell him when I’m lost. I can look to him with a genuine heart and say, “I need your help to figure this out.” And he has always looked back at me, without fear or hesitancy and said, “Just tell me what you need me to do.”
I didn’t know that I would sit down next to a man, as I have done so many times in that place, and two years later find myself completely convinced that there is no other life for me other than the one I share with him. When it comes to most of what is deeply meaningful to our hearts and Spirit, we often have very little idea exactly what we’re taking on or how to prepare. You never know how falling in love will rearrange your priorities or adjust the range of what you pray for until you are in the middle of it. But what I do know is that there is shouting joy in my heart. I know that for all the times I tensed up and reached for the door handle, he has never let me run and he has never faltered. I know that I chose him and the choosing took time. I know that I didn’t come upon this casually. I know that I looked everywhere and I worked hard. I set aside hesitation until I found myself lying down in a way that only aligns properly beneath his fingers and mouth. I defended our connection when all I could think to do was put my head down and cry. I became unafraid of waiting a little longer, putting faith in a man’s protection and practicing an allegiance to love in a world that is consistently dominated by fear, insecurity and greed.
This is the death of some dreams and the claiming of others. This is the yes in myself sung aloud.
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