“He” could be anyone. In fact, he could just as well be a “she.” That’s how often people tell me the following story. That’s how common it is. It goes like this: “I fell in love with one person. We got married. Now I think I’m in love with someone else. Maybe I wasn’t really in love the first time. I think I made a mistake. I think I’m really supposed to be with this other person. What to do?”
I know what they want to hear. They want me to tell them: Follow your heart! Life is short! Don’t waste it by staying in a loveless marriage!
I never write this. As a result, many people who write to me end up disappointed.
Here’s why: He didn’t marry the wrong person. He’s merely suffering from a very common problem. In Buddhist terms, we call it attachment. In western terms, we call it lust or infatuation.
It’s tricky because it feels so justified and right. In fact, I’m guessing that, if you have some attachment going on in your life right now, you are reading this and you are thinking, “Nope. Not attachment. It’s love. I know it. This person? Soul mate.” Read on. Let’s see.
Pure love is about bringing happiness with you to the relationship table. It’s a decision to put energy into a relationship. When you love purely, you accept that sometimes you will disagree, and that’s okay. You accept that sometimes you’ll both be exhausted and grumpy and not in the mood and all sorts of other things, and that’s okay. The love comes from your daily actions. It comes from smiling each morning, asking your partner about his or her day, making that special meal you know your partner likes, doing that special favor, and being the rainbow in your partner’s cloudy day. It comes from dozens of acts of love committed day in and day out over months and years that build up a strong sense of warmth and affection in your heart.
It’s my firm belief that, as long as two people mutually respect one another, love can bloom. It’s not a magical feeling that we only experience when we’re around someone with the right chemistry or interests. It’s something we create day in and day out.
Attachment is the opposite. Rather than giving happiness, it’s an attempt to get happiness from someone else. You suffer from attachment when you see something you find pleasurable — a good looking and funny person (like this guy), chocolate, or a new car — and you think, “Niiiiice.” Then you exaggerate that person’s good qualities: She’s so funny. She’s so beautiful. She’s so everything. Then you make a leap of logic and assume that you can’t be happy unless you are with that person. You think, “Wow, I want….Wow, I must have… Wow, I need.” You assume the rest of your life will be a total waste until this person is in your life.
And you’re wrong.
People are not living breathing antidepressants. Sure, you might get a dopamine rush when you are around certain people, but that’s not happiness. That’s high. You can get high by smoking crack, but I doubt you’ll ever profess your love to the stuff or call it your soul mate.
And here’s the important part: after every high comes a crash. When you are deep in the thick of attachment, this is really hard to see. You won’t believe that it could ever happen, but it will. Eventually that person will stop serving you happiness. Live with anyone long enough and that person is bound to do three things: 1) change 2) get on your nerves 3) pass gas in your presence.
Eventually you’ll start seeing that person’s faults. You’ll notice that annoying thing she does when she eats that you never noticed before or that way he chews on his lip when he’s concentrating that is so unattractive. You’ll notice so many things that you will just swear that person never did when you were head over heels in love.
And you’ll think, “Oh my Gawd, I married the wrong person AGAIN!”
No, you didn’t. You made decisions made on attachment again.
Before chasing after a soul mate, do something important. Learn how to love. Learn how to bring happiness to the table rather than expect for it to be there when you sit down to a meal.
Learn how to be a complete person who can be happy alone, married, or in a group home. Learn how to bring your loving, generous heart to every moment.
If you do that, you just might find that you can indeed love the one you are with.
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Here’s a story I wrote for Babble that I think you might enjoy: The Time My Grandfather Schooled Me on the Meaning of Life.