What does it mean to be in a happy relationship? There are countless materials available on this subject to tell inquiring minds what they need to know to find love, and how to make love work: hollywood romance is absurd, love in the media is all drama, daily life doesn't make for best-sellers, and most people don't want to read a bunch of psychology and self-help books to figure out 'why' their significant other is driving them nuts.
However, there is one representation of relationships that I found really moving and most like what I know to be true, and that is in the character of Sean in the 1997 movie Good Will Hunting. Besides that this is perhaps the most amazing performance of Robin Williams' career, it is a most humanizing and humble portrayal of love. There are two scenes in particular that strike straight to the heart of the matter, as it were:
Sean: You're just a kid, you don't have the faintest idea what you're talkin' about.
Will: Why thank you.
Sean: It's all right. You've never been out of Boston.
Sean: So if I asked you about art, you'd probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life's work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientations, the whole works, right? But I'll bet you can't tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You've never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling; seen that. If I ask you about women, you'd probably give me a syllabus about your personal favorites. You may have even been laid a few times. But you can't tell me what it feels like to wake up next to a woman and feel truly happy. You're a tough kid. And I'd ask you about war, you'd probably throw Shakespeare at me, right, "once more unto the breach dear friends." But you've never been near one. You've never held your best friend's head in your lap, watch him gasp his last breath looking to you for help. I'd ask you about love, you'd probably quote me a sonnet. But you've never looked at a woman and been totally vulnerable. Known someone that could level you with her eyes, feeling like God put an angel on earth just for you. Who could rescue you from the depths of hell. And you wouldn't know what it's like to be her angel, to have that love for her, be there forever, through anything, through cancer. And you wouldn't know about sleeping sitting up in the hospital room for two months, holding her hand, because the doctors could see in your eyes, that the terms "visiting hours" don't apply to you. You don't know about real loss, 'cause it only occurs when you've loved something more than you love yourself. And I doubt you've ever dared to love anybody that much. And look at you... I don't see an intelligent, confident man... I see a cocky, scared s***less kid. But you're a genius Will. No one denies that. No one could possibly understand the depths of you. But you presume to know everything about me because you saw a painting of mine, and you ripped my f****** life apart. You're an orphan right?
Sean: You think I know the first thing about how hard your life has been, how you feel, who you are, because I read Oliver Twist? Does that encapsulate you? Personally... I don't give a s*** about all that, because you know what, I can't learn anything from you, I can't read in some f*****' book. Unless you want to talk about you, who you are. Then I'm fascinated. I'm in. But you don't want to do that do you sport? You're terrified of what you might say. Your move, chief.
Sean: Do you feel like you're alone, Will?
Will: [laughs] What?
Sean: Do you have a soul mate?
Will: Define that.
Sean: Somebody who challenges you.
Will: I have Chuckie.
Sean: You know Chuck; he's family. He'd lie down in f*****' traffic for you. No, I'm talking about someone who opens up things for you - touches your soul.
There are several important things about loving another person in a very real way that Sean is talking about- every person is utterly unique, cannot be read about or understood seperate of having an open and trusting relationship; no intellectual understanding can replace the experience of getting to know a person, and it takes an incredible vulnerability to truly put someone else before yourself, to love them more than you love yourself. One must consciously decide to forever put themselves, their talents, efforts, desires, and needs, second to that of another. And, in my opinion, it is when two people who care for each other have both reached that level of trust, of vulnerability, of humility, when love truly takes root in their souls. Love does not have the opportunity to reach its full fruition unless both people are deeply committed to it. Ability to love is not predicated on intellectual or physical ability, but an emotional awareness of how much one is willing to risk, and for whom. And it seems like a rarity for people to find someone worth risking everything for. To emotionally healthy individuals, it might seem very strange to think of love as risking more than hurt feelings, but it is in fact inviting the idea that you are completely out of control of something that radically impacts your life, and choosing to sign up, anyway.
Needless to say, the person who inspires that kind of response from another would have to be someone very special- remarkable, really, and then get through the process of having a human loving relationship in which mistakes are made, selfless support is given, trust is diminished and restrengthened, and both individuals learn whether or not the reward of that person's intimacy is able to counter the pain of the bad times, when that vulnerability hits hardest. Nothing but the deepest understanding for who another person is, who they truly are at their best and worst, is usually enough to get through the trubulations life will present with that bond intact on the other side.
And lastly, someone who truly loves another- is perhaps their soul mate- will challenge them, push them, make them see possibilities for their life that they would not dare to see without the confidence of someone who both knows and accepts them completely, and is willing to strive for what that person is capable of being. Most importantly, having the mutual understanding that a desire to grow and become the very best version of yourself does not mean that who you are today isn't someone worth loving. On the contrary, everyday, every moment, that love will be present. But it is in striving that we live, and in living that we love. We must grow, or attempt to, to be in love.
I can think of nothing more deleterious to love and happiness than stagnation, and it is one of the common bits of love advice to always be trying to win your partner over, to always be showing your affection rather than taking for granted that it is known. This effort is a natural consequence of loving someone more than yourself- being willing to put out the energy and time and expense of trying to accomplish something with and for another. That accomplishment may be achieving a career or degree, of finding a role in society that one finds meaningful, of becoming a wonderful parent, getting a 'handle' on a mental illness or addiction, writing a book, traveling to new places, or anything at all that a couple wishes to strive for. It is often the case that, in the honesty and openess of a relationship, a person is willing to voice and confront their weaknesses and realistically set about addressing them. Someone close to you can challenge you while cheering you on at the same time.
So by my definition, love is supporting someone, challenging them, moving forward in life together, and being honest and open about who you are. Not very romantic. Where's the muscles and the smoldering eyes and the all-natural, we-just-clicked personalities that were meant to be together? Not prerequisites for love, by a long shot. If I could sum up love in one word, it would not be 'passion' or 'exciting' or 'happiness'. It would be 'comfortable'.
I have a much easier time being articulate in writing than in person, so when I first started dating my husband seven years ago and my mom asked my why I was with him when we have so little in common, I said, "I'm comfortable with him." I couldn't really explain it beyond that. That is hardly the swooning, this-is-the-one, I-can't-imagine-being-without-this-person response that most people would expect from someone who insists on dating a particular person despite serious difficulties exterior to the relationship, and plenty of the normal difficulties within. How could I marry someone I was "just" comfortable with? Just what was so good about being comfortable?
Being comfortable is being able to go to a movie that you like (and he doesn't) and he doesn't tell you that you owe him one. He was happy to participate in something you enjoy. Genuinely.
Being comfortable is getting sick on a camping trip and throwing up everywhere, and riding back home together while laughing about all the things that went wrong, knowing that the two of you spending time together is what went right.
Being comfortable is sharing your innermost hurts and thoughts and secrets, and never thinking for a second that he will judge you for it, think less of you, or run away from the fact that your problems are not something he can fix quickly, if at all.
Being comfortable is knowing that if you dyed your hair orange and purple and green, dressed in a radically different style each day, and vascillated between hating make up and wearing a full facial do that would make the most dramatic drag queens proud, he would still think you were the most beautiful girl he'd ever seen.
Being comfortable is knowing that you can try to accomplish your dreams with his help and impressive cheerleading skills, and if you mess up (a bunch), he will still support you just as fully.
Being comfortable is saying that you will be there for each other for better or worse, and then at the peak of a really heated disagreement, knowing that promise is every bit as strong and true.
Being comfortable is singing together at the top of your lungs in the car, when neither of you will sing in front of another living thing on earth.
Being comfortable is leaving the grovery store together feeling like you went on a mini-date.
Being comfortable is admitting that you don't understand what on earth he is talking about while trying very hard to 'get it' anyway.
Being comfortable is watching him crack himself up and enjoying it immensely.
Being comfortable is coming home after a really bad day and burying your face in his neck so you can breathe in his warmth and his scent and regain your perspective on life.
Being comfortable is being able to say what you think, what you feel, what you like and dislike, what you want to do with your life, and show who you are, without any fear of retribution or use of that intimate knowledge of you for manipulation and control.
Being comfortable is trust
is dating your best friend
is an electronics bouquet
is knowing your boundaries
is deep conversations
is Head Over Feet
is a bad cartoon
is omlettes at 1 a.m.
is trips to the ER
is a sunrise
is inner peace that includes someone else.
What is comfortable for you?