Falling in love is one of the real miracles of life.
Many relationships are based on far more shallow things such as physical attraction or mutual need or mutual loneliness. But in certain cases, two people meet at a time when their needs and desires and understanding of the world are similar enough that they open up to one another and real love grows.
We celebrate those moments and we like to pretend they always last. Every romantic movie with a Hollywood ending treats those moments as a culmination of something — as a moment when two people join in love and then live for the rest of their lives as the same people they were in that moment.
But that’s a simplistic lie. It might be a well-meaning lie, but it’s still a lie. When two people come together and fall in love, they might be at similar points on their life paths, but unless they continue in growth together — with both individuals and the relationship itself both growing — those two people quickly drift apart and love inevitably dies.
A person who isn’t growing and changing quickly stagnates and becomes very unhealthy. The same is true for a relationship. If two people are not moving forward together on a growth path, they will soon become strangers who don’t know one another. They will end up in such radically different places — if one of them grows and the other doesn’t or if they simply grow in very different directions — that they have no business together, because the love and connection are gone.
For my entire adult life, I’ve been aware that something different was going on in me than what was going on in most of my peers. I quickly became aware that I was wired very differently. I didn’t understand why. (I still don’t understand why.) But I discovered that most people get to a certain point quickly — by about the age of 30 — when they simply quit growing. They stagnate.
Instead of living the next 20 years, they live the same year 20 times. They’re not growing. They’re not changing. They’re just going through the motions of life without challenging themselves or growing in ways that throw off the limitations of their past. That can actually result in a stable life — because you can live the same life year after year — but it doesn’t lead to growth.
About 10 years ago, I had a turbulent relationship for a few years with a woman who I was very deeply in love with — and she was in love with me. We almost married, but the specific things that happened at the time are ancient history. For a long time afterward, I was filled with regret about the way things ended — and I wished I could change the story so I had ended up with her.
Today, I see things very differently.
It’s not that I’ve changed my mind about the past. She and I were very much in love. We were very compatible. We wanted to grow in similar ways together. But she went her way and I went mine. I have become a very different person now than I was when I was with her. I assume she’s a very different person, too. We share a history of love from that period of what we both were at the time, but we share nothing today. There’s nothing left but history and narrative. There is no remaining love.
I’ve been thinking about this today for an odd reason. I always think about growth for myself and I’m constantly changing and re-evaluating who I am. That’s just a part of my emotional DNA. But I was listening to an interview with a woman who reminded me very much of someone else I fell in love with not so long ago.
I’ve talked with you before about my growing respect for the wisdom of the Enneagram personality typing system. (I’m a Type 1, if you’re curious.) I’ve learned a lot about myself through listening to good teachers expound on this system of understanding — and it’s been helping me grow a lot over the last few years. (I could talk about that all night, but I won’t.)
The two-part interview I heard was with a hyper-successful woman who worked at Twitter in its early days. She’s a Type 3, which the Enneagram calls “the Achiever.” Claire Diaz-Ortiz had recently discovered her type — and she suddenly started understanding things about herself which she didn’t really seem to want to understand, but then she was driven inexorably to understand. She suddenly started experiencing the hidden feelings which she had buried underneath her need to achieve for so long. (And she started understanding why she had always needed to achieve.)
I found the interview dramatic and emotional. It was dramatic because she was pulling back a curtain on her life and admitting the things she was learning about herself. It was emotional because it reminded me of the sort of growth I had wanted with this other woman who I fell in love with not so long ago. I wanted her to be having these experiences that I was hearing about this woman having, because I’ve seen and experienced the same needs and potential in her.
And yet it made me sad, because she and I are slowly going down very different paths — by her choice — and we will eventually end up in places where we don’t recognize each other anymore. And that feels like an excruciatingly painful loss.
(The interview I heard was on a podcast called Typology. Here is the first part and here is the second part. Especially if you happen to be a success-driven Type 3, I recommend you listen to every word of it.)
If you understand what I was 20 years ago, you probably have no idea what I am today. The same is true for what I was 10 years ago. And I’m continuing to change and grow, so I’m less and less like what I was five years ago or two years ago. But I haven’t “arrived” at the final iteration of myself. I’m still struggling to become a more authentic version of myself — and I feel as though I’m getting closer and closer to that.
When we meet people and start relationships, we do so at a place where we’ve come together and we can understand each other. Think of those points as something like subway stations. If we meet at one of those stations, we might find ourselves at exactly the same place in life and we might fall in love.
But if we get on different subways — or if one of us stays at the station in limbo — we’re going to end up in very different places. If we don’t travel together — growing and understanding one another along the way — we might end up in such different places that we have nothing in common emotionally anymore. And that’s when loves dies, when we haven’t emotionally traveled that path of growth together.
Love is precious to me. I’ve found real love very few times in my life and I desperately need it. I don’t give it up lightly. I want to hold onto it. But when two people are on such different paths, love slowly turns to sand and slips through our fingers — no matter how much we try to hold onto it.
That’s why I was sad listening to the interview today. I was listening to the sort of growth and transformation that I wanted to experience with someone I fell in love with. When two people experience that together — and honestly work to understand each other — people of differing personalities can jointly become something far more powerful than what either is alone.
I miss the excitement of knowing I had found that sort of love. I miss the excitement of believing I was on that path of growth and success with someone. And that left me with a dull ache of reminder that I’m traveling on a subway going in a very different direction than she is — and I’m tired of traveling alone.