Still(a)Life #27: “As your lover describes you, so you are”

“Through others, we become ourselves” said Vygotsky. As children, we develop cognitively and emotionally through interaction with our caregivers. This does not, however, end in childhood. As adults, the relationships we find ourselves in continue to shape who and how we are. Jeannette Winterson wrote that “As your lover describes you, so you are”.

It is my belief that, over time, people either grow together or they grow apart. Relationships, of any sort, are an invitation to this growth. We either take up these invitations or not. Any relationship you find yourself in will leave you either changed for the better or for the worse. The fact that relationships have the potential to leave us changed for the better implies that they could just be our ultimate form of therapy.

But, in order to achieve this, we must allow ourselves to be changed. We need to let go of our pasts and give in to our futures. Even when our futures feel uncertain. We must allow ourselves to be shaped by the people we are locked down with. If we don’t like the shape they give us, then we need to speak up.

We must be prepared to recognise how our past pains might have shaped us; how they flavour how we experience our present loves; and be willing to give ourselves up to a yet to be determined future self. “This is just who I am” is the greatest barrier to our growth and the greatest threat to fulfilment in a relationship. We are better off saying “This is who I would rather be”. The relationship that supports us in this vision, is the right relationship for us.

I have always said that I can’t screw a couple back together if they are not compatible enough. But, today a client shared a quote with me by Alain De Botton, that challenged this: “Compatibility is an achievement of love; it must not be its precondition.”

Even though I don’t believe that just any two people are potentially compatible, I think it is worth asking: How do we achieve such a love? Perhaps only through radical honesty? We have to be able to say things to each other that we know will hurt. Such honesty, although seemingly cruel, is an act of love. Such honesties are invitations to growth. But I must trust you enough to trust that your intention is love and not diminishment. I am compatible to you when I love you enough to want you to be everything you can be. Even if I risk the loss of you through that.

It’s day #27 and many a home is fast becoming a potential confessional or a bunker for hidden feelings. It’s a good time to find the courage to describe ourselves back to each other. Ultimately, these honest moments can be our sincerest acts of love.

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