“Love could be labeled poison and we’d drink it anyway.” ~ Atticus
It’s risky being a lover. The act of loving is perhaps the most vulnerable action we can take as a human being. If we’re doing it right, we are laid open, mind-body-soul, before the mind-body-soul of another. That can be a dangerous prospect indeed. There are inherent risks. Broken hearts abound. Especially when we are first getting to know a person.
It can be dangerous being openhearted, and yet openheartedness is a must if love is to be true. It can be dangerous being honest about love, especially when people would rather be kissed with lies than slapped with the truth. It can be dangerous practicing tough love, especially when most people (subconsciously) would rather be coddled and spoiled than respected and empowered.
Yes, loving is a delicious gamble at best and a tragic gamble at worst. Either way, it’s a gamble. But the answer isn’t to crawl into a safe, comfortable, secure hole and erect defensive walls to protect ourselves from emotional harm. No. The answer is to become better gamblers.
As Alan Watts said, “What one needs in this universe is not certainty but the courage and nerve of the gambler; not fixed conviction but adaptability; not firm ground whereupon to stand but skill in swimming.”
The lover who dares to love (dangerously) is seeking to perfect their “skill in swimming” rather than merely cling to the safety of the shore. Balance is key, of course, but in a world grown lopsided with too many shore-clingers, we could use a few more skilled-swimmers out there.
“You can’t improve the things you love if you never allow them to be imperfect.” ~ David McRaney
Being honest with people is the cornerstone of any relationship. Whether that relationship is platonic or romantic, it ceases to be a healthy relationship when it is being built upon lies instead of honesty.
But sometimes, often, honesty can hurt. And that’s the dangerous part. Sometimes honesty hurts other people’s feelings. Sometimes other people’s honesty hurts us. But that’s certainly not a good reason to be dishonest. It’s actually more of a reason to be honest from the get-go, so as to prevent unnecessary suffering later on.
The difficult part is that we often deceive ourselves. We all too often lie to ourselves, and most of the time we’re not even aware that we’re doing it. It is difficult, if not impossible, to be honest with others if we are not first honest with ourselves. And so, any love given to others must first be given to ourselves.
Much self-questioning is needed. And then the self-doubt that comes from such questioning must be reconciled. Otherwise, we risk our love toward others being inauthentic, ingenuous or, worse, dishonest.
Think of it like the airplane analogy. Love is the oxygen mask. We need oxygen in order to be there for others. Self-love is primary. We love ourselves first so that we are capable of loving others. A huge part of this self-love is self-honesty. I would even venture to say that self-honesty is a bi-product of authentic self-love, and vice versa. They nourish each other. One begets the other.
With enough self-love/self-honesty practice, with enough healthy “oxygen,” we grow into more of an authentic individual who is capable of giving honest love to another.
Practice self-love and self-honesty and authentic love and honesty will not elude you. Honesty begins at home. It begins with yourself. If you can practice being honest with yourself, day in and day out, you might earn the loving skill of how to be honest with others.
“The only way of loving a person is to love them without hope.” ~Walter Benjamin
Tough love is loving others through the pain. It’s loving despite the hurt and misery of heartbreak. Tough love is first admitting that we’re not perfect, then admitting, and allowing, that others are not perfect either. It’s akin to brutal honesty, but it gets more into the blood and guts of the human condition and its capacity, or incapacity, to authentically love. As the African proverb states, “One who loves you, loves you with your dirt.”
Tough love is looking into the mirror and admitting that you are probably wrong about a great many things. You are a fallible, prone to mistakes, clumsy, fumbling, naked ape going through the motions of living a short life within an unfathomably ancient universe. But then it’s going over-the-top, despite all of that, and loving yourself anyway.
Tough love is then turning that mirror onto others. Not because we want them to feel sad, depressed or low, but because we love them and we want to be sincere, genuine, and truly authentic with our love. We want them to feel special to us despite the grand scheme of things –two specks of dust coming together for a time in a mighty desert. We turn the mirror toward our friends, family members, or lovers because we want to show them that it is possible to love ourselves, and each other, despite being fallible and imperfect, and because life is so short.
Authentic and healthy growth begins with admitting some difficult and tough truths about ourselves and others, and then building upon the knowledge gained from that tough love and using it to transform ourselves and our relationships into more robust vehicles for giving and receiving love.
The Romantic Gambit:
“Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before,” ~ Neil Gaiman
Is there a “safe” way to love? Is there a way to be authentic and genuine toward our lovers without risking pain, humiliation, or heartbreak? Perhaps. But it’s unlikely. Besides, safety can be a risk in itself. As Brené Brown noted, “We can choose courage or we can choose comfort, but we can’t have both.” Loving ourselves takes courage. Loving another human being takes even more courage.
Comfort is a fine thing to be relished and appreciated when we can get it, but not at the expense of a life well lived. Not at the expense of courage.
And certainly not at the expense of love. Our ability to take the good with the bad when it comes to love, to be grateful of the highs and to learn from the lows of love’s roller-coaster ride, and to cultivate a healthy, honest, humorous disposition regarding the vicissitudes of loving authentically, and even dangerously, is the keystone of a life well lived. From which all other stepping stones – whetstones, philosopher’s stones, lodestones – are built.
In the end, love is a gamble. And it’s all the more beautiful because of that fact. It’s high time we became better gamblers by becoming better at “swimming” through the uncertain waters of love rather than holding fast to our tiny shrinking comfort zones where love suffocates and withers.
Paraphrasing Samuel Becket here: Ever loving. Ever brokenhearted. No matter. Love again. Break your heart open again. Break it better. As the venerated Rumi once suggested, “Let the lover be disgraceful, crazy, absentminded. Someone sober will worry about things going badly. Let the lover be.” Indeed. Someone clinging to the safety, security, and comfort of the shore will be too worried about things going badly out on the risky and dangerous seas of love.
Life is short. Love is risky. Courage is uncomfortable. But more of life comes from love laid open and bare than love closed-up and made invulnerable in vain. So, take the leap into dangerous and vulnerable love. There is adventure to be had. If it achieves nothing else, at least you won’t be bored.