The ideal of great love and meaningful, life-long union with a chosen mate does not die easily in the human heart. It’s striking, really, how often in my counseling practice a man or woman comes with this presenting issue: I want to be in love. I don’t want to be alone. I don’t want to grow old alone. I want to share my life with someone.
Even people whose hearts have been many times were broken, whose dreams have been many times shattered, people who have promised themselves again that they have given up and need to give up and should give up, even people who have normalized transient connections and casual sex … even these people cannot silence the longing for loving, faithful human partnership.
So I refer them to Speed Dating.
The modern therapeutic industry, it seems, often offers a reflexive ‘solution’ to this human longing for the ideal of great love: “You’re fine alone.” Variations on the theme include “You need to learn to be okay with being alone” and the ever-ready “This is a good time to work on yourself.”
You’re never going to hear such things from me.
I’m fine enough alone. So are you. But don’t ever confuse that with “fine.”
If you suggest I learn to make creative peace with solitude, I’ll say you’re right. That’s been an issue for me in my life, and I’m working on it. But if you ask me to learn to be okay with being alone, I’ll say no thank you. I’ll say you’ve overstated your case. I’ll tell you I don’t want to ever be okay with being alone. Human beings aren’t built for alone. That’s not the way we’re made.
I’ve cast my lot with The Voice in the Hebrew Bible that gazed upon humankind and said simply and profoundly: “It is not good that the man should be alone.”
Which isn’t to say that marriage is for everyone, or that everyone is called to marry. It’s just to say that, for the significant majority of people, the longing for mated-ness is a deep and near-universal hunger. And that’s healthy. That’s sane.
What’s nuts is this culture’s runaway, a distorted quest for autonomy. Individualism. Americans are never prouder than when they convince themselves they don’t need anyone. That they did it and are doing it themselves. Whee! Look at me! I’m autonomous!
Yep. And you’re alone. Autonomy is overrated. How could you ever get close to someone who has no needs? Or, more accurately, who clings fiercely to the ego-delusion of having no needs?
Do you really think anyone lies in a hospice bed and celebrates, “I win! I’m going to die autonomous and independent! Woohoo!”
Now, don’t let me overstate my case. To participate effectively in a great love, we must indeed nurture and grow an individual self. We must possess a whole, solid, separate self. But here’s a great paradox: We cannot complete the journey of selfhood except that we cast that individual self headlong into the journeys of intimacy, trust, interdependence, and faithfulness – close friends, family, the earth, the community, and for most, the journey of eros and love relationships.
The journeys of ‘we’ and ‘I’ are never either/or. They are both/and. Each requires the other.
Nope, I don’t help people be okay with being alone. I invite them to embrace their longing for mated-ness. To dig deeper into it. To feel every bit of the ache. To let that deep longing become a team of powerful horses, pulling their hearts and lives into the future with vitality, intention, and authenticity.
Another night without you in my bed/ A treasure map of true love held tightly/ But with every aching breath you’re nearer/ Missing you is strangely good for me/ I miss you, baby, every time I breathe
How do we find our soul mate? Stop looking for him! Stop looking for her! Let your longing help you claim the whole of yourself. Then extend that self out into the world with an open and expectant heart. Play, work, recreate, listen, watch. That is all you can do and all that needs to be done.
And, tomorrow morning, if you awaken lying next to your beloved, then lean your head back and kiss the sky. You are stupid rich. Remind yourself – again – never, ever to presume upon it. Never to take it for granted. Feed it. Water it. Practice it. Faithfully.
In fact, put this newspaper down right now. Go to him. Go to her. See your mate.
And be grateful.
(Steven Kalas is an author and a therapist. He writes a weekly column for the Sparks Tribune. You can correspond with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)