What this old German poet reckons love is about.
I’ve been having a bit of fun with these Thursday blogs. I guess I’m at a stage in my financial career where I can afford to take half a day off to think about a curious line in a song or something like that. And I’m at a stage of life where I actually feel like doing it!
Anyway, this week I was thinking about his idea that to love someone is to be a “guardian to their solitude”.
The first time I heard that line I was like, oh yes. That hits me right in the feels. Though I didn’t really understand why at the time.
The idea comes from the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, in one of his “Letters to a young poet” – an actual bunch of letters he wrote.
Anyway, he was riffing on what marriage should and should not be about. And he says:
“The point of marriage is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all your boundaries; on the contrary, a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of their solitude…
A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development.
But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.”
Beautiful, isn’t it? Can someone please tell Hollywood?
I feel like we’re continually sold this ideal of love being the dissolving of boundaries. Where you meet someone who you understand and who understands you perfectly. You seem to speak with one mind. Feel with one soul. You don’t know where you end and they begin…
… so seductive.
… and so dangerous.
The promise is that for once, we might not feel so alone. We might have someone in our lives who understands the unique experience we are having behind these eyes, behind this heart.
But that can’t happen. Our experience is ours. People might be able to understand elements of it, but no one can know what its like in its entirety – the wild overwhelming craziness of it all.
We are alone in our experience of life. We are just built that way.
And so to run away from this, is to run away from life. To trade your unique experience for a shared experience is to give away your individuality.
(It’s a high price to pay for what might be a short period of hormone-induced sexy times at best.)
Our individuality is precious. The loneliness of it is a heavy burden sometimes, but if we can embrace it, we can know the joy of living an authentic life – a life that we can truly call our own.
And so a good lover then, in Rilke’s eyes, is one who can hold their own desire to ‘merge’ in check, and defend your right to be totally you. A guardian to your solitude, a champion of your uniqueness.
I really hope you get to meet someone like that in your life.
And if you do, like Rilke says, better put a ring on it.