Is there anything more chilling than the thought of being suddenly, unexpectedly stranded?
It is in our nature to live in relationship with other people. We organize our lives around the relationships we come to rely on: the family we were born into, the one we create, the partner relationships and colleague relationships and connections within our communities of faith and politics and poker and music. We come to depend on these relationships, and we trust that they are mutual. Our lives would be instantly transformed if they were gone. A relationship may seem like something to count on, and we may be invited to do so, but deep down we know that there is no guarantee; couples break up, jobs disappear, friends move away and swear that they will keep in touch and somehow fail to do so. Yet in a deep and vulnerable part of our hearts, we want to keep them forever.
The possibility of losing the relationships that define us, feels like death. That’s a wildly distracting thought; how do we cope, and continue with our ordinary plans for Tuesday? Some people choose the path of avoidance, becoming as emotionally independent of other people as possible, or keeping things superficial. The theory seems to be that if we depend on nobody, we will be spared the pain of loss. Others become pleasers, hoping that by accommodating their significant others at any cost, and telling them what they want to hear, their relationships will be secure. Some become manipulative, entangling others to make abandonment costly. None of these paths, sadly, provide much peace.
How is it possible to have an open heart, available for love and deep friendship, while aware that relationships all have uncertain futures? Living with daily fear of abandonment is intolerable. We can better endure the possibility of being disappointed one day, by becoming first, someone we really want to be, regardless; and then, willing to share the journey with friends, characters and colleagues, as the universe permits. The hope for enduring companionship is not always fulfilled in expected ways, even if we are kind and clever. The delicate balance is to care about the regard others give, without depending on it for survival. The original meaning of the word apathy is not impassiveness, but willingness to accept whatever outcome may unfold, with warm regard. We can love truly and well, and yet make sure that the source of our identity and our nurture, is found within us. The moment we depend upon someone else to sustain us on this life journey, we give away too much power, and put ourselves at risk.
Sometimes I wonder if we become caught in fear of loss, because we secretly hope that the fear is an emotional vaccine against the suffering we imagine. We suffer ahead of time, just in case, and perhaps we will be prepared. Rather, it seems more hopeful to direct that energy toward becoming who we have always wanted to be. That, and a good cup of coffee, and a friend.