Loving Cathleen…

My wife Cathleen and I have been on a love jag over the past few years, and I cannot begin to tell you how beneficial it’s been. A very simple idea: We added spending time alone together every day as a part of our goal-getting regimen. This turns out to have been an inspired idea, although I did not foresee that going in.

At some point I may write about this experience in detail, because there is a lot to be learned from it. As an example, consider this: If you want to end the day married, start the day married. No relationship can endure if you’re not doing anything to maintain it.

Teri Lussier and I have talked about the same sorts of issues privately. Here’s a clip from email I wrote to her:

My wife is most beautiful when she’s all the way in love with me. Her features are very fine in the ground state — striking, as an old family friend would have it. But when those features are lit from within by her passions, then she is many orders of magnitude more enthralling. But it’s my job to earn that response from her — and I wish I could insist that I’ve earned that response every day. But there is no better incentive to staying on the path to Splendor than to marry someone you have to live up to.

We are a spiteful race. We wound all our treasures and treasure all our wounds. The SplendorQuest begins when you learn to think the other way — to focus on the world as you want it and not as you don’t want it. I wrote the essay shown below in 2004, and I wish I could say I’ve always lived up to it — all the way, every day. But I’m living up to it now better than I ever have before, and I can’t think of any reason why I should not be able to get better at loving my wife every day from now on. –GSS

I think the thing I like best about her is that I don’t ever yearn to get away from her. That seems silly to say, except for the part about it applying eventually to nearly everyone else. There are so many things about her that I admire, and so many others that I don’t despise — which is just as important to me. But before all of those — and before her beauty or her smile or her scent or her endlessly pleasurable moister places — before any of those is the simple fact that I really, really like being around her. I really like having her around me. When I’m buoyant, yes. When I’m joyous, yes. When I’m serene or enthralled or romantic, yes, yes, yes. But also when I’m cranky or annoyed or angry or frustrated or stymied or bored — I like having her around me. I don’t ever get sick of her, and I think that’s the most hugely loving thing I could ever say about anyone.

I’m writing this because the subject of love keeps coming up in my mail, and my take on it is different from what I keep reading. I think maybe my correspondents are setting standards that are simultaneously unrealistic, unattainable and utterly irrelevant. I actually had to discover that it was possible for me to love a woman in the same way — or at least with the same intensity — that I’ve always loved whatever I happened to be concentrating on. It might be equally accurate to say that I had to discover that it is possible to concentrate on a woman in a kind of equal and interactive way. These are not proud admissions, and I did not come to this epiphany at a young age. But it gave me a very clear understanding, I think, of what matters to me and what doesn’t.

What matters to me most in any human social relationship is that the other party leave me the fuck alone. I am not a libertarian in politics, I am a libertarian in sum, in total, in everything. I don’t tell other people what to do, what to think, how to be, and I don’t suffer other people to do these things to me. Or rather I do suffer until I can break free, and then I never, ever come back. I would chafe at a chain made from a spider’s silk, and I simply cannot live among people who cannot let me live as I will. It’s not even enough for someone to like me just-the-way-I-am: What if I should change? I won’t live by sufferance, even if the sufferance consists of unlimited license. A license can be revoked, and I don’t live by permission.

And that’s the biggest component of why I don’t ever get sick of her, the thing that makes me sick to death, eventually, with almost everyone else. She’s free enough in her own soul to let me be free in mine. She’s nowhere near as philosophically libertarian as I am. That doesn’t matter. Unlike a vast host of philosophical libertarians I’ve known, she has the seemingly unique capacity of letting me live my own life unmolested.

There’s more, more, more, but I think it all has more to do with her qualities of character than with her abstract credentials. She’s very smart, with a very finely tuned rational mind, but so much more important than that, she’s honest — unmasked, undisguised, non-manipulative, non-cloying. She is not ever trying to put something over on someone, and she is not ever trying to claim a grace she hasn’t earned or escape a debt she owes.

Because there is nothing of deceit within her, there is a light in her eyes that illuminates her entire life. This is something I look for in everyone, and when it is absent, I am very wary. When a person has no life in his eyes, death abounds somewhere within. This is nothing more than correlation — or prejudice — and it might well be an irrational paranoia on my part, but it’s a trusted guide to me by now. I don’t share anything I value with people whose eyes are dead.

She’s fun and fun-loving and much more open to new things than ever I am. Sometimes I feel like I let her down, which is doubly new to me — that I feel the need to live up to her, and that I actually care that I might disappoint her.

I believe almost nothing, certainly nothing of what people claim to take on faith, where she believes almost everything. There are dozens and dozens of doctrinal issues we disagree about, but none of them matters. First, because, like me, she is happy enough to manage her own mind and doesn’t feel the need to assert control over anyone else’s. And second because we are in complete agreement about everything that matters — honesty, integrity, character, and an elemental goodness, grace and beauty.

I talk to her all day, every day — face to face, cell phone to cell phone, mouth to ear. For hours in the car, for seconds on the phone, for a need to touch, a need to share, a need to be together, a wish to be connected, a desire never to be too far apart. Triumph calls and joke calls and time out of the day to meet at Starbucks for lattes and eye-talk. Where she is is home to me, and the fact is that I never had a home until I knew her.

You can read all about our tender coming together here. But the fact is that I’m a writer, and I can make anything painfully beautiful. If you wonder, wonder, wonder, wonder who, who wrote the book on love — it was me.

But the secret to love, I think, a secret I learned late enough in life to truly appreciate it, is not this set of characteristics or that flavor of doctrinal accord or this appearance or that achievement. The secret to love is to find someone you cannot bear to be away from for long, and who brings you a peace you know nowhere else. Love is not love — where it is not a substantial and enduring improvement over solitude. There is nothing to be found in characteristics or doctrine or appearance or credentials that will make you want to stay when you want nothing more than to get away. And none of those things matter, in the end, when you’re with that one person you never yearn to escape.

Find that and the rest comes easy…

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  • Very interesting, and I’m so glad for both of you. My late husband and I had a wonderful “live and let live” relationship and I loved him very much, but the kind of relationship you describe here would be smothering to me, I’m sure – regardless of the other person’s character or qualities.

    I love many people, in various ways, but I have no desire to live constantly in anyone’s presence like that. Solitude is every bit as important to me as love.

    • > I have no desire to live constantly in anyone’s presence like that.

      Funny that you read this that way. I am a stridently solitary soul.

  • “I talk to her all day, every day — face to face, cell phone to cell phone, mouth to ear. For hours in the car, for seconds on the phone, for a need to touch, a need to share, a need to be together, a wish to be connected, a desire never to be too far apart. Triumph calls and joke calls and time out of the day to meet at Starbucks for lattes and eye-talk. ”

    Well, my friend, this paragraph most certainly does not convey the idea of a solitary soul to me! 🙂 I would not want to be talked to “all day, every day” – no matter how much I loved someone. I need serious quiet and decompression time alone, even after having friends visit for a day.

    I talk to the dog now, but before I got him there were many days in the last year when I heard no human voice at all. And didn’t miss it. If I want that, I can always sing… or call a grandchild. 🙂

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