“Only love, only long empathy and identification and compassion can root another person in their heart so deeply there’s no escaping your hatred of her, not ever; especially not when the thing you hate most about her is your capacity to be hurt by her.” –Jonathan Franzen from his book Purity
“If fear is the great enemy of intimacy, love is its true friend.” –Henri Nouwen
Kate and Robert came to my office each week to talk about their relationship. They frequently clashed about almost everything. It was a free for all in session as they hurled insults and blame back and forth from A-Z. One day we were able to make some progress and they actually started to come together. Robert turned to her and said that he was sorry and wanted to be with her. She replied “You’re a liar.” She went on to say that he never tells the truth, he manipulates and all he wants is to be right. As it seemed sincere to me I was a bit stunned for a second and he reeled back flush with anger. How could this be? At the very moment they were coming together she dashed it and sent him into a tail spin of confusion and rage. What were they really doing? What occurred to me next didn’t come easy. She was protecting herself, she didn’t want him to come close, she was afraid of the intimacy.
There are so many reasons to be afraid of intimacy and love we can hardly begin to enumerate them. John Paul-Sartre opined that lovers want to possess the desire of the other to quell their fear of rejection and abandonment. In that way he believes that all love relationships are doomed to battles for independence and ever present dependency.
Freud wanted us to believe that our id impulses drive us toward each other for emotional food. Melanie Klein studied babies and found that they envied the breast because they needed it so much. She went on to describe the infant as biting the very hand that feeds them in their hatred of their deep desire to survive and how that need is attached to the mother. That the infant loves and hates the same object. We experience this kind of ambivalence in our love relationships as adults. We want intimacy and love and are terrified of losing it or worse yet being hurt, humiliated or simply tossed aside for another. Almost every human being is the victim of intimate crime either by their parents, the very people whom they first trusted or by others when they were young and their hearts are open.
When children are hurt again and again they close up and dream of redemption. A fantasy appears to save them from the pain of loneliness and of being unlovable. They build these dreams throughout life and into their intimate relationships. When our love object does not live up to these fantasies of love we are crest fallen, we may become angry and despondent. What are we to do to learn how to love with our hearts open?
• We have to open our hearts knowing that we will be hurt. We have to learn to bear the hurt to find a way to a loving relationship.
• We need to understand our fantasies and how they push our lover away. An idealized fantasy can get in the way of intimacy. We can use our fantasy as a means of alienating and providing us with the safety we need.
• If we know what our defenses are we will be able to control them so we won’t alienate our partner.
• Understand the role of anger in our defense against being hurt. Anger is our safety net. Righteousness, entitlement and justification help us deliver the blow. Then we feel safe and utterly alone.
• Cold, cool, detached or terminally hip are only defenses. We can be so smooth and so alone. These states are based on a deeper sense of inadequacy that we don’t want anyone to see.
Loving dangerously requires the courage to be known by the one’s we love. It demands that we come out of hiding and be seen while allowing someone into our inner world. Loving all the way is a risk, we can be hurt. But “No risk, no reward.”