September 29, 2011

Why Do We Think Relationships Make Us Happy?

A few months ago, I went to see my dearly beloved Krishna Das for a weekend retreat.  Because I had dragged Alex to two Krishna concerts, wherein I forced him to sit cross-legged and chant for five hours while angry yogis stampeded the stage, I let him off the hook this time.  Despite giving him a "get out of Krishna Das free," I couldn't help but wish he was there, disappointed that my dream day (chanting) and his dream day (surfing) didn't align.

Seven hours into Saturday, Krishna started talking about relationships.  He recalled a story by an Indian guru who stated, "I don't understand why westerners believe that relationships make us happy."  The class erupted in protest. "What do you mean?" people retorted, "of course relationships make us happier!"

Krishna didn't back down, responding "certainly close connections with others are important for our well-being, but relationships themselves don't make us happy."

For a very long time, I expected my significant other to be my work-out buddy, my spiritual adviser, my best friend, my chef, my cleaning man, my intellectual guru, my masseuse, my therapist, my support system, my travel partner, my dance partner, my editor, my go-to person to call during the day when I'm bored, my vintage shopping buddy, my florist, and my lets-sip-wine-and-talk-about-feelings-companion. In other words, I expected my partner to fulfill my every need.

So, despite meeting many of my so-called criteria, whenever Alex failed to conform to my relationship needs, we'd have to have a "talk."  Alex never complained about these discussions, but they certainly weren't fun for him.  At times, he'd listen intently to my concerns and agree to work on it.  Other times, he'd gently remind, "Ker, you need to let me be me."

"You can be you!" I'd exclaim, while secretly thinking, "but only if it aligns with my expectations of who I want you to be."

I deepened into my love with Alex when I realized that he couldn't fulfill me.

People are not made to fulfill us; they're made to shed light on how we can fulfill ourselves.  This is why we value true friends, spiritual advisers, therapists, and partners.  Not because they fulfill us, but because when we're with them, we remember that we are worthy of love. 

At the end of the day, Alex cannot make me pursue my own dreams, give me the discipline or creativity to write a book, make me feel connected to God, or convince me that I am powerful. Whatever he offers will never be enough to fulfill my deepest desires.

This realization has been a relief for both of us. I have (er-am trying) to relinquish my expectations of what he needs to provide to me, and in letting go, I see him for who he truly is--a life-long and perfectly flawed companion who can help to remind me that it is my spiritual journey, not my relationship, that ultimately completes me.

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