(the following was a PSA delivered to present me by past me regarding future me)
You know what’s scary about love? It’s the idea that you might need someone else. That you might get so used to them being around, to their presence in your life, that you start to rely on them. You get used to having them help you with little things like getting you coffee, going grocery shopping, handing you the towel when you get soap in your eyes, stuff like that. It’s insidious, the way those little things can creep into a relationship and add up.
It’s a deadly trap. I had a stormy relationship about a decade ago that seemed doomed but for one thing: we both had rather unreliable cars at the time.We were always each other’s rides to work or to the grocery store and winter in Wisconsin was on the way. Since our cars seemed to take turns breaking down, we never considered breaking up – couldn’t risk not having a ride. Ended up marrying each other. See how risky a little help can be?
That’s not the worst part. The more time you spend with someone, the more likely it is that something big might go wrong. A close relative dies; you go through a debilitating illness, or lose a job. If you turn to that “helping hand” for support during that time, it may be comforting and wonderful but don’t be fooled: pretty soon you’ll start to imagine that they will be there again. You might take it for granted that they will be there. You might even think that you should be there for them if something bad ever happens to them.
And that’s scary.
Giving Up on Going Alone
It’s scary for a couple of reasons. The easy one is: what if they go away? Abandonment! Quite an obvious danger, one of the most popular fears out there, and justifiably so; divorce rates, breakups, circumstances like jobs and schedules show that person can be suddenly ripped away and there you are like a stool with a leg missing, off balance and unable to support yourself, much less anyone else.
There’s a deeper reason, though. If you let that person in, you change. The fact that you can rely on them – whether for the little things or the big – means that there is a redistribution of your energy. Suddenly you don’t have to worry about refilling that coffee cup, and so more words get written. Someone is there to make you dinner after the workout, and suddenly you have more time to stretch and relax. You no longer have to worry about who you’re spending the weekend with and can focus on what the weekend is like.
That’s change, my friend, and that’s the scariest thing of all. It means a change in you. It means that by letting this person help, you are no longer the person you were before.
“Defense, Defense” (claps ensue…)
Sure, more things are possible, vast horizons of experience and achievement open before you – but it’s won’t be the same you who enjoys it. It’s some new version, that looks a bit like you, but is a bit more relaxed, with a tendency to smile and daydream and fantasize at random moments.
That’s a threat – do you realize that, present you? A big threat, trust me. You have been doing fine, why should you surrender to this strange new version? That future you doesn’t seem to realize the danger they are in.
It’s much, much safer to simply call it off. Don’t ever accept help – insist on doing everything yourself.
It’s your coffee, dammit, you know how you like it. Besides, if you let them help you, then you have a kind of obligation to help them – and that can cause a pretty huge dent in other things that you’ve been working on for a long time. Career, hobbies, other friends, all things you’ve spent years cultivating, There’s no reason to change that just for something that statistically isn’t going to last anyway, right?
There are great ways to justify maintaining your separate life as well. Qualities like “freedom” and “solitude” and “no strings attached” have a wonderfully American ring to them, whereas words like “dependence” and “needy” and “vulnerable” are really never pretty. Besides, if you get “attached”, you’re not being a very good Buddhist, now, are you?
As Arden Leigh said in a phone conversation during the wee hours of the morning: “You can’t really be intimate with someone if you never let them help you.” Smart woman, that. Let her advice be a clarion warning, and heed the truth of the words!
Huh? No, I’m pretty sure that she meant it as a warning. What else could it be?
Cling to the present you with a fierce and passionate conservatism and you can avoid this kind of danger. “Help” risks the the slippery slope that leads to love, relationships, and unexpected memories that make you grin at the most awkward times. Look down that steep hill and paint a black diamond on it! It’s not just the possibility of heartbreak – it’s the certainty of change.
You can be safe, or you can be connected. You can’t be both.