Excessive attachment is based on the assumption that it will contribute to everlasting happiness. (Desikachar 2:7)
You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you might find you get what you need. (Jagger/Richards, 1969)
I meet up every few months or so with an ex-lover to catch up on life over a few drinks. Despite our love and affection, as well as physical attraction, the timing of various events in our lives, and our diverging needs and long-term goals resulted in us never settling into a long term, traditional relationship. Over the course of the past five years, I’ve watched as he matured from confused bachelorhood to fiancé, husband, homeowner, and in all likelihood, a father in the next few years.
I was merely happy to see him happy and to have the opportunity to continue our friendship. I listened as our conversations turned to discussions about the struggles that all new marriages encounter. City vs. suburbs. House vs. condo. Kids now or kids later? In-laws. Expectations. Lack of sex. Money issues. Insecurities. I was always happy to provide a sympathetic ear and encouragement. I had long ago put away the idea that our relationship would be romantic, because I knew how important it was to my friend to have a wife, a traditional home and a family – all things that we would never share.
When we flirt, I am reminded of how things once were. When we talk openly about how much and how deeply we care about each other and the deep and lasting impact we’ve had on each other’s lives, it is lovely and intimate, but bittersweet.
Lately, I worry. I wonder if we are slipping into a pattern that can come to no good. I wonder if I will have to let go of our friendship in order to be a real friend to him.
Sometimes the most loving thing we can do for someone else is to let them go.
Sometimes the most loving thing we can do for ourselves is to allow ourselves to let go.
We struggle as we cling to hold onto moments and memories, desperate to relive past events or reignite old feelings. We suffer when we realize that the tighter we grasp, the more we try to make things the way they were – or the way they ought to be – the more happiness leaks out from in between our fingers.
Things cannot be as they once were; they can only be what they will be. This is not a fatalistic view of the world; it’s an accepting and peaceful understanding that allows us to enjoy the present moment and appreciate what we have now. It also doesn’t mean that it’s wrong to want or to desire the people and things we love and enjoy. But the tendency we all share to place great importance on a particular outcome or fulfillment of a particular desire causes us to behave in ways that aren’t helpful, and can be potentially hurtful or abusive.
This is living from a place of fear – fear of change, fear of failure, fear of loss, fear of regret.
There will always be people in our lives that we think upon with both pleasure and regret of what once was; or what never really was, but could have been. There will always be moments that are singular in terms of the love or joy or pure connection that they represent. There may never be another moment or lover or experience exactly like that one, and if we search our entire lives for another that is the same, or try to force current circumstances in an attempt to repeat a moment, we’ll miss out on new, different but completely genuine experiences. Our clinging to the possibility of reliving the past or repeating an old pattern denies our loved ones – and ourselves – of the opportunity to grow as human beings and walk the path we are meant to follow.