As a clinical psychologist in New York City for the better part of the last decade I am acutely aware of the number of people presenting for treatment with “relationship issues.” Indeed, more often than not people come into my office and cite dating (“I never choose the ‘right’ people”), marriage (“things used to be so different between us”), divorce (“I worry about the impact on our kids”), family (“I can’t stand the people I live with”), heartbreak (“why does it still hurt so much”), feeling disconnected from their partner (“we used to talk all the time – now I feel as though we barely even communicate”), and, of course, love (“this pain [love loss] feels unbearable”) as primary reasons for their distress. Individuals present with their unique concerns and dilemmas despite the common themes inherent in each person’s narrative. This makes so much sense, as relationships are quite possibly (and certainly in this writer’s opinion – along with other, much smarter people) the most important thing we create in our time on this earth. After all, without relationships there is no love.
Love is a loaded word and an even weightier experience – as it can simultaneously be the source of both immense joy and indescribable pain. Why is it that love seems to cut so deeply in both directions? Well, we must consider that love is a complex concept that predates most experiences and has evolved over centuries. Love is a concept that is fluid and ever-changing, and it is one of the few concepts in this world in which the more one attempts to describe it the further away one gets from grasping and fully understanding it (like trying to hold tightly to a fistful of sand only to helplessly watch the individual grains slip through the cracks in your fingers). Some say that love is wild and cannot be tamed. Love has been the muse to many artists, the inspiration to countless singers/songwriters, and in some cases even the cause of war. Within our centuries on this planet, love may have proven to be the most elusive of human experiences. It’s no wonder then, that it has been the central concern to those in distress and often at the epicenter of both bliss and misery for so many.
When “relationship issues” or “love” is the reported concern upon meeting a client, I by no means act as if I am some sort of expert on the topic (no Casanova ‘round here); however, I am able to call upon the wise words of those who have been able to provide some solace and guidance to anyone hurt by relationships and pained by love. Thich Nhat Hanh, Bob Marley, Dr. Ruth, Dr. Drew, John Hughes, scores of poets, and countless others have all been kind enough to share their wisdom on the topic. My personal Love guru (and the wisdom I find myself sharing the most with my clients) happens to come from my favorite author – the whimsical and masterful Tom Robbins.
When the topic of dating or love comes up in conversation I find myself returning to the words of his most well-known novels in the hopes of providing a raft of salvation to those feeling lost in the sea of love (heartbreak and betrayal being the tidal waves and riptides in the vast ocean of human experience). The following quotes offer readers some insight into how one can create love and feel love’s immense power.
“We waste time looking for the perfect lover, instead of creating the perfect love.” — Tom Robbins – Still Life with Woodpecker
How many of us have spent time searching for Prince Charming/Princess Perfect? How many of us have missed out on meaningful relationships that were right in front of us because we were looking for the BBD (Bigger, Better Deal)? How many of us have infused hurtful, self-critical meaning into situations that did not work out as we had hoped? I know I’m guilty of it – just read through the margins of my high school notebooks, which are riddled with words of heartbreak and self-invalidation (“If I were only … then so-and-so would like me”). Why do we do this to ourselves? Do we really think there’s someone out there who is “perfect” for us? How would we even know when that person entered our life? It’s not as though they wear a sign alerting us to their existence. Thus, as Tom Robbins highlights for us, it may be prudent to have the mindset of “creating the perfect love,” and recognizing what you can contribute to that equation – whether with your current partner and/or with the next person to enter your life that makes you feel the way you would like to feel.
Which brings me to my second of Tom Robbins’ quotes:
“The highest function of love is that it makes the loved one a unique and irreplaceable being.” — Jitterbug Perfume
I view these words as a guide for how one may hope to feel when he/she/they enters into a deeply meaningful relationship where love is felt and can be cultivated. This holds true for romantic and platonic relationships alike, as feeling heard, important, respected, validated, “unique and irreplaceable” are such key ingredients to building a lasting, loving, significant relationship.
I leave you with the following words: when feeling crushed under a wave of heartbreak and pain, trust and respect yourself, listen to your inner wisdom, and, if still feeling lost, pick up a Tom Robbins’ novel and enjoy his whimsical means of infusing levity into the weighty concept of love.
By Jason Weingarten, Psy.D.