You’re probably tired of me beating around the bush instead of going for the meat of this particular subject, and I don’t blame you. Impatience is part of our culture, it’s a part of our computerized age, and perhaps most importantly, it’s expected of your generation. So here’s a summary of the tools that will help you understand and capture the big ‘ell.’
The first tool is an understanding that the pursuit, capture, and life-long maintenance of a loving relationship has rules. These are not rules that allow for a winner among players. No, it’s a set of rules that should help remind you that you are a participant. More complexly, there are rules that always apply to you alone, rules that apply to both you and your partner, and rules that pit both of you against the world. You must be aware of where you are, where you’re going, what’s important, and what’s not. The rules can change quickly with unknowns hiding in a new place every day. But if you understand the rules and respond skillfully, the rewards include more pleasure and productivity in your life than you can achieve on your own.
The second and third tools involve knowing yourself, and should be familiar to anyone who undertakes any intensely serious endeavor. A related aspect of this is that you absolutely must collect a set of life goals. You won’t have to keep them if you don’t want them, but if you choose well, it’s likely that they will be your goals until death. And it’s important that you have them, because they represent yourself to the rest of the world.
One of the more critical aspects to understanding yourself is developing an appreciation of your own ability to be flexible, knowing it for what it really is, knowing your limits, and knowing how to use them. Or if necessary, knowing when to hold fast and influence others to flex instead. This tool is a two-edged sword, because as you become more knowledgable about your own flexibility and your ability to use it, the more you will realize others may not be as flexible and don’t know how to exercise self-control. One of the life-long tasks of lovers is to teach the other about your own flexibility, learn about theirs, and work together so that neither of you is taken beyond their comfort zone.
The fourth tool is almost the opposite of the second and third, and can appear counter-intuitive to many, so I’ll include a few more words about it here. Don’t worry about understanding or explaining your partner, for this is something that will be revealed to you over the years. Many of us try to fit other people into convenient molds for us to understand their actions. Men and women have been characterizing each other as opposites ever since we started paying attention to Love, and if any of these systems would have worked we would know. Divisions such as hunter versus gatherer, or Martian versus Venusian is easy to talk about, but make no sense. Working hard to create such an understanding, especially in the beginning of a relationship, only makes your work harder.
Not understanding someone does not mean that you should accept what they do with a blind eye. This is extremely important, and is one of the most visible mistakes young lovers make. One can be so taken with the other that anything they do is rationalized away. It won’t matter if these differences are political, ethical, or even minor inconveniences. Thinking that someone will change in ways to benefit you almost always prove wrong. That we all change is true, and it may be that your lover will change to your liking. But it’s also possible that they won’t, and unless your situation is so constrained that you must accept the risk, it’s better to say goodbye.
There is a large difference between trying to understand someone, and knowing what you can expect them to do in the future. What they do today they will probably do tomorrow. What their parents did at any particular age is probably what your lover will also do at that age. Accept this, and don’t expect it to change. Most importantly, and fundamental to this tool, don’t try to explain it. Accept it, and understanding will come in its own way.
The fifth tool has to do with looking at yourself in a new way, as a link in a chain. You and I, even as you read these words, exist in this moment. As some serious philosophers have argued, it may be that everything else is a dream – both past and future – while this moment alone has any meaning. This isn’t the place to worry about that, but the hard truth is that we are the culmination of a thousand thousand generations of fighting, survival, and loving. All that came before us can only be passed on in one way – through us. As a link in that chain, you can choose what you pass on to your lover, and eventually your children. Not everything that came before today was constructive, and you can choose whether or not your lover must be exposed to those things. Did your ancestors like to philander? Did they indulge in food and drink? Did they have fits of violence? Or did they practice subtle versions of domination, verbally and psychologically? Every family has skeletons in the closet; you can choose to close that door, forever. Your lover may never know it’s there, and that’s alright – if you can keep a secret. If you can’t, and your lover knows it’s there, that’s alright too. You must never let it out of the closet, for trying to live with your skeleton may be more harmful than anything you imagined. And the link moves forward. Choose to break the chain, create the Love you dream about, and leave your ancestor’s skeletons where they belong.
The sixth and final tool also has to do with looking at yourself in a new way. Instead of looking at yourself as a link in a chain, you must see yourself as a traveler in this world. Only you don’t walk on the ground alone, but also above the trees, among the clouds, and finally, floating above the planet. All of you are present all the time, walking through life together and separately even though you may not be aware of your other selves. This tool will help you recognize and understand your alter-egos so that you can appreciate and switch among them at any time. It’s this ability to move between different planes of existence that will help you navigate through life, and achieve Love.
Some of you may say that these don’t look like tools; after all, there’s nothing to buy and no website to visit, no catchy mnemonics, and nothing to play on the computer. When you think long and hard about everything around us that we call ‘tool,’ like a hammer or a car, they all come down to a different way of looking at the world. As long as you have the concept of ‘hammer’ in your head, you will never be without a hammer. It won’t matter if you didn’t buy one at the hardware store, because you can use a rock if necessary. The true tool is not material, it exists as a concept within your mind.
At the same time, your mind is much greater than what’s between your ears. It includes resources around you, the internet, your relatives, and possibly even this book. You don’t have to ‘remember’ all these things, you only have to know where to go to get the information you want. So don’t underestimate the usefulness of the tools we’re about to discuss. They may be better than a hammer.