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Staying with disappointment requires a certain amount of bravery, for we find ourselves alone. Often it has been our fear of loneliness that caused us to so earnestly seek out a relationship; we need someone, anyone, to make us feel secure, solid, alive. And here we are again, alone and desolate.

Because this is such a familiar feeling, we begin to see that no one can take away our fear of loneliness. Our aloneness will always come up; even the best relationships end, through death or change. When we treasure our aloneness, it becomes so refreshing. When we feel it and acknowledge it as the basis of all our relationships, there is tremendous freedom. Of course, this guarantees nothing about the relationship itself.

When aloneness and disappointment dawn for us, the relationship might have the space to begin. There is tremendous groundlessness, for we really don't know where the relationship is going. There may be good times, there may be bad times. What happens, though, is that we begin to have a relationship with a person. We can begin to see the lover as someone separate from us, and we feel aloneness in relationship. Previously, the romance filled up the space in our lives and kept us company. We felt full because our fantasy filled in all our needs, or so we imagined.

But when we begin to really have a relationship with someone, there are gaps, there are needs not met. This is the ground for the relationship. When there is that quality of separateness and sanity, a very magical chemistry can emerge between people. It is unpredictable and unknown, and it does not follow the mythic guidelines for romantic love.

When we begin to see the other person, there is a new opportunity for romance in a sane sense. The lover's very otherness can attract us. It is fascinating what makes my husband furious, what makes him laugh. He really likes to garden, he really hates to shop. Continual fascination can bloom, because the other person is beyond your boundaries of expectation and conceptualization. That fascination can include moments of depression, discouragement, and resignation. In also includes moment of humor, delight, and wonder. But all of it is tangible, and vivid. Even while we are intoxicated with the continual emergence of the other person, we are haunted and enveloped by our own aloneness.

And, perhaps surprisingly, there is an opportunity for boundless passion when you are not trying to fit someone into a role. This can be happy passion, because it is not trying to manipulate the lover into filling one's needs; it is passion that can include sexuality without fear of intimacy. It is also the vertigo of high-altitude passion, because one's own aloneness remains and the situation is so inescapable.

When you look at relationship beyond disappointment, you can begin to relate to the vivid phenomenal world. Your mate can become a symbol or representative of the entire cosmos. When he or she says "no" and is furious with you, you are actually getting a message from your world. When strain or difficulty occurs, it is very tangible and must be worked with. Everything that takes place in your relationship can become a message from the world at large.

It seems so much safer to stay romantically involved. But if we do, we will never get outside our own minds. We'll always be wrapped up in our conceptualization of romantic love. Disappointment is a loss of innocence. And that loss can actually wake us up, if we are willing to stick with the situation. There is a choicelessness that grows when you can appreciate the other person for who they are and give up trying to make them fit the image of your fantasy.

When we let go of our manipulation, relationships are fundamentally groundless. We have no control over them. In a healthy relationship, you try to support the goodness and the dignity in the other person. You don't allow them to cover up the situation again and again; you give up your feeling of betrayal if they do the same with you. You are willing to be a gentle reminder of the way things are, and allow them to be one too. But there are no assurances about your respective roles.

Should we cut romantic love out of our lives? Of course not. We are in our culture, and we have our neuroses to work with. The intelligent way of working with romantic love is to experience it fully, beginning with the romantic passion, and then experience the disappointment and go on from there. We should understand fully what we are doing, being aware of our tendencies toward delusion when we are “in love.”

There is tremendous energy in our passion. Romantic love is the beginning of understanding the nature of relationship. With it we develop the courage to jump in, and once we are in the ocean, we learn to swim. Without romantic love, we might never have jumped in.

Originally published in the March 2010 issue of the Shambhala Sun.



Browse the March 2010 "Mindful Living" issue

Featuring Thich Nhat Hanh, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Judith Simmer-Brown, Karen Maezen Miller, Daniel Goleman, and many more — all addressing how to bring mindfulness into all the major aspects of your life.

The Mindful Society

Here you'll find some of the finest articles on mindfulness, from our extensive archives, plus Shambhala SunSpace exclusives, and more.




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