Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Capacity of Love


I'm never in a very good place at this time of year. Valentine's Day is second only to Christmas as an over-commercialized, too high of expectations, set-up-to-fail kind of day that I just can't wait to be over. But amidst all of the perfect couples exchanging jewelry, flowers, and other nonsensical whatnots to prove to each other that they didn't forget this magical holiday of mushiness, I do have a few things to say on the topic of love. God knows I'm no expert. In fact, I've failed miserably. But there are a few things I've learned along the way that I can share.

Love, in any way, shape or form, is about capacity. Your capacity. His capacity. Her capacity. The love that two people have for each other can be an incredible love, but if one or the other doesn't have the capacity to recognize the other person's needs (after the basic expectations have been met,) then that relationship will never be what it needs to be.

Let me clarify. I mean "after the basic expectations have been met" in the most basic sense. For example, there's a mutual attraction. They're of an acceptable age, height, hair color, body style, or whatever visual criteria you have. You're on the same page with the things that are important to you, such as wanting kids/not wanting kids, religious and political views, career goals, etc. That's what I mean by "the basic expectations."

Capacity is, for all intents and purposes, their ability to "get" you - above and beyond "expectations." To recognize - not necessarily fulfill or even understand - but recognize your innermost needs so important to you that you would rather be without someone than have these needs go unfulfilled. Unfortunately, you can be with someone whom you deeply love, who meets and perhaps exceeds all of your criteria, but who lacks the capacity to recognize what you truly need.

In my opinion, this is when some long-term relationships come to an end. The short-term relationships never have a chance to get to capacity. The long-terms have the potential, and can go one of two ways. You can grow to learn about each other and develop the capacity needed to recognize the needs of your partner, or you can struggle through and just never really "get it." Why? You just don't have the capacity.

See, it's no one's fault. Either you got it, or you don't. For example, everyone has that friend whom they can tell ANYTHING to. ANYTHING. She's always there for you, she understands when you're being stupid, silly, bitchy, depressed or overjoyed. She "gets" you. On the other hand, you can have a very good friend whom you DON'T tell everything to. She might be the friend who tells YOU everything, but tables turned, she just doesn't have the CAPACITY to be that friend YOU can confide in. Make sense?

Love relationships are the same way. I can look back at all of my failed relationships and see where either I or my partner or both of us didn't have the capacity to recognize what the other person wanted or needed. In my marriage, I wanted more than anything to have a stable home life and to raise my kids around family and friends in the town where I was most comfortable. That's what I thought I signed up for. When things changed, I tried to roll with the punches. I really wanted to roll with the punches. Other women did it - why couldn't I? In the end, I just didn't have the capacity. As hard as I tried, I couldn't make that life change successfully, and during the time I was trying, my husband at the time didn't have the capacity to help me through it. In the end, it broke us both.

My most recent relationship lasted four years. I loved him immensely. Actually, I never thought I would ever feel the way about someone the way I felt about him. I truly loved him. I respected him. I admired him. I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. And I believe he felt the same way about me. Our ideals seemed to align - we felt the same way on a variety of important topics and issues. But I came to realize his life was very different than mine; his priorities were different. His work was what made him who he was - it certainly defined him.

He told me I was his "island" - his "escape" from the stresses of work and school. He wasn't my "escape." He was a part of my life. I made a huge move to another city to be with him, but in the end, I didn't have the capacity to live in a world away from my friends and family, where I was just his "island." He didn't have the capacity to understand what I truly needed - to be a priority in his life - not just an "escape." I didn't have the capacity to understand the magnitude of his work and how much of his life it required - or that he chose for it to require. He didn't have the capacity to let go a little - to not make life such an afterthought; to know that you can agree to disagree without getting angry; to remember national holidays. In the end, it was hard to let go because of the depth of my love for him. But I knew long before it ended that our capacities were not aligned, and probably never would be.

I sometimes wonder if, like my expectations, my desire for capacity is too high. I look at my parents - married more than 50 years, and wonder if they understand each other's capacities. Obviously, no one person can fulfill your every need; that's why you have family, friends and other relationships. But at the end of the day, the person whom you spend your life with should be the person you can look at and not wish for more. That person should have the capacity to make you have no regrets. That no problem is insurmountable. That the "next thing" isn't going to be the thing that breaks you.

I may never find someone who has the capacity to recognize what's important to me, or have the capacity to recognize what's important to him. Maybe it goes hand in hand with my "too high of expectations." It certainly sucks to find someone who exceeds your expectations but lacks capacity. I've also discovered the opposite, where the person completely recognizes capacities, but doesn't meet basic expectations. That makes me feel like a heel. But, like a hopeless romantic, I won't stop hoping someday I'll have the best of both worlds. Until then, I still believe this quote: “Happiness comes of the capacity to feel deeply, to enjoy simply, to think freely, to risk life, to be needed.” And I won't settle for anything less.

1 comment:

  1. What an interesting post. One of my daughters went through a painful divorce and we just talking about this at length because I believe he loved her to the best of his ability. And vice versa.
    I think there is a balance of having a healthy self esteem to have high expectations for love and a mate but realizing, as you said, that no one will fulfill all your needs. I feel like everyone kind of has deal breakers, for me honesty and integrity is high on my list. My husband and I have been married 37 years and he has all the qualities I admire. The stuff I roll my eyes over is minor irritations to me, but maybe to somebody else they would be a deal breaker. I have OCD and he is very patient and kind ..some men, despite vowing in sickness and health, might have jumped ship a long time ago on me. I have a good friend whose husband loves to gamble, that would really bother me and I would have never entered a relationship with someone who told me they love gambling..but my friend is good with it. I am glad you will not settle for less, you deserve way more than that.

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