The transitions and stresses of life are indispensable for the pursuit of happiness. It requires little effort to perceive the joys of life as a contribution to personal beatitude, but it is much more difficult to perceive the opportunities of joy in the turbulent waters of life. Excluding grave evils, the “ebbs” of life awaken us to our humanity. It is in these moments that we rediscover our self, for better or worse, against that of the world. It is precisely in the dissonance of life’s evils that we see ourselves NOT as a passive agent to life’s circumstances but rather as an active force that contributes to the world by asserting one’s own ‘I’ onto the world. This is precisely what it means to be human and this is something we must be reminded of often. To be human does not mean simply to receive what the world hands us. To be human is to actively assert one’s own self onto the world to make a unique and unrepeatable contribution to the world.
These ebbs of life are painful because they threaten our self-possession. These dark moments are dark precisely because they attempt to steal what is so dear to us: ourselves. Such circumstances present a crossroads by which we can either allow ourselves to be swallowed up by the pain or venture down the road of self-rediscovery. Like the rats in the cellar, the pains of life reveal that which has held us captive for far too long. It is up to us to choose whether we reclaim the cellar for ourselves or to assimilate our lives around the life of the rats.
Like life, love has its own ebb and flow but this is often something under appreciated at best and down right loathed at worst. A healthy love relationship (i.e. dating/courtship or marriage) requires two fundamental callings: a call to be united to the other and a call to remain distinctive persons within this unity. The late John Paul II termed this a relationship that embraces unity-in-distinction. Unity without distinction is assimilation (i.e. doormat syndrome) while distinction without unity is mutual appropriation (i.e. using someone merely as a means for one’s own gratification). The work of love resides directly in the pursuit of these two dimensions and it is where we discover the catalyst for the ebb and flow of love.
When I speak of the “ebb and flow” of love I refer to a particular dynamic of relationships that manifest a continuous drawing closer (flow) to one another with a subsequent drawing back (ebb) from one another. While the reasons for why one would draw near to another in love is self-evident, the reasons why one would “draw back” from the other for the sake of love is not as self-evident. One cannot deny the fact that such a distancing can be a legitimate threat to love and so should be treated as just that. On the other hand, one ought to recognize a well and needed good in such a distancing if it is done for the right reasons.
Like the ebbs of life, the ebbs of love afford us the opportunity to rediscover our self independently of our beloved. This opportunity is NOT for its own sake but rather for the sake of love. Reduced to a quest for autonomy, such opportunities quickly turn from a means of greater intimacy to a threat of love. The drawing back from one another provides a rich terrain for self-rediscovery. This reawakening (or deepening) of the ‘I’ independent of the ‘thou’ enriches the opportunity for genuine unity which is nothing more than an expression of mutual self-gift. The more one is self-aware (i.e. self-rediscovery) the more one is able to give oneself to the other. Hence, the ebb and flow of love.
Pursuing a life of self-rediscovery within a relationship can be achieved in both healthy and harmful ways. One must always seriously discern whether or not such an activity is for the good of the relationship. For instance, a married man may suddenly desire to take a spontaneous three-week trip with “the guys” to Hawaii but is such a trip good for the marriage? While the value of independence is good for the sake of love, this value must always serve love. In other words, while the value of independence must never be compromised, how one prefers to express this must always find compromise since it serves a very particular love who is your beloved. A three-week vacation may not be prudent but maybe a well-planned ahead weekend camping trip nearby might by.
As alluded above, same-sex friendships are one of the most valuable ways to maintain and enrich one’s own self. Countless are the times I have witnessed “new love” abandon all friendships through the impulse to spend every waken moment together. Such negligence only leads to problems down the road. Assimilation impinges upon the relationship which ultimately turns one person into a carbon-copy of the other. It is only a matter of time before the radically compliant partner explodes through months/years of resentment. May we all strive to cultivate and maintain healthy and holy same-sex friendships both for their own sake and for the sake of your current or future beloved! In the end, may we all journey well down the path of self-rediscovery for the sake of love; for the sake of self-gift. May God be Praised!