When I first met my partner, I was disillusioned with relationships. I had lost my dad, I had lost many relationships, and I had understood that loss was simply a fact of life. Afraid of losing again, my heart had closed.
On our third date, when it became clear that he wanted us to commit to one another, I asked him: “Commit? Like in a relationship? But what even is a relationship?”
I was expecting him to judge me for questioning things to the core, but I think he saw my hurt. And lucky for me, he was a designer. We had met at work, and we were used to breaking things apart only to put them back together later.
“Oh, interesting question,” he said, and took out the little notebook he always carried around. After gazing into empty space for a moment, he started drafting what a relationship is:
What makes us a couple:
1. We make each other a priority
2. We envision a future together
3. We are building something together
4. We have (lots of) shared values
I tried hard, but to my surprise, I couldn’t find anything I disliked in this definition. It didn’t sound like what a relationship should be. It didn’t talk about what we can or cannot do, it didn’t talk about what we feel or don’t feel, it didn’t give any promises, it didn’t demand that anything impermanent by nature (like emotions or roles) becomes permanent.
When I look at this definition today, a year and a half later, through the lens of a mindfulness teacher, I love it even more. It seems that we agreed on the essence of love that night. We expressed a willingness to continuously bring our attention to each other, to what we have in common, to what we can build in common.
That night, on our third date, he convinced me that this would work only if it was a partnership. It would work only if served both of us, it would stop if didn’t serve one of us. It would enable us to have better, fuller lives; we would become stronger and happier because we are together. “Why else would we partner, if this wasn’t the case?” he said.
Since that day, I refer to him as my life partner. I love these words more than all the words that are now so loaded that they have become empty of meaning for me. Husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, date, hookup, affair, and all the others - they don’t make me feel anything. Life partner makes me feel something. It makes me feel the essence of love, the attention we want to bring to each other.
I see more and more people refer to their significant others as life partners lately. I also see some people who are scared by this word. I can see they are thinking “You mean, like, a business partner?” They don’t usually say anything. So I don’t explain. But if I were to explain, I would ask them:
Aren’t we all, partners? The moment you meet another, the moment you love, the moment you share, aren’t you in partnership?
What are the terms and definitions of your partnerships? Do you know them? Did you write them? Or they were written for you? Do they serve you? Or are you trying to serve the terms and definitions?
Can you, instead of dressing love up to its many names, call it for what it is?
Do you see that love is just a loving attention? Do you see that it’s just partnership?