We will all leave each other at some point in time. How we know each other now will not be the same in the future. All things change with time. We hope to change for the better, but shifts will occur in all of our relationships in any case. We will all leave each other—the questions are how and when.
For the purposes of this article, I am not that concerned with why things change. Things will change whether we are doing things well in our relationships or not. It does not matter if we screw up totally or are being perfect. In reality, we are probably not doing either but something much more complex and in the middle. No matter the situation, it is still just a matter of time before things change. It’s a normal part of life.
When I say we will all leave each other, I am talking about death and dying, but not only that. Our society encourages the denial of not just death and dying but loss of all kinds. Loss of any kind can hurt us and remind us of what we don’t have control over.
One loss that affects many people is the heartbreak of a relationship ending. One of the reasons I love talking about intimacy and sexuality is the mystery and the diversity in how intimacy works from one person to the next or one situation to the next. And the intimacy we have with another person (and even with ourselves) changes constantly in each moment, if we are paying attention.
We are getting either closer or further apart or discovering more about each other or shutting down. We are changing on an individual level, and that can change our relationships. Many things can be happening in our interactions with or without our awareness, but basically nothing will remain the same. At some point, we will discover that things have shifted, that things are not the way they used to be in our relationships.
I say often that obligation is not love. However, that does not mean not having commitment. It does mean a sincere attempt to have healthy connections. I feel strongly that there is not one right way to do anything; I pay attention to the context, rather than some arbitrary rule. So only you know what would be healthy or right for you, and only I know what that would be for me. I think if we are listening to our inner wisdom, we will often know intuitively if something feels healthy or right. The answers really are within. And if we don’t know the answer in this moment, paying attention into the next moment may reveal the answer.
What is the difference between obligation and commitment? Obligation is when there is no longer a choice. We feel we have to do something even though we would rather not. Of course, no one can make someone feel something, but our interactions with each other do affect the relationship going forward.
Commitment does not mean knowing what I will do in every instance in the future or knowing for certain I will be able to continue a relationship (including a friendship) into the future. But it does mean a willingness to have a conversation about the relationship if at all possible and take ownership for my part in it and make efforts to shift or change an unhealthy dynamic if one exists.
Commitment may also look similar to doing something that feels obligatory. For example, I may decide to help someone move. On moving day, that may be the last thing I feel like doing. But I may still want to help with the moving and follow through on my commitment. It may not be convenient for me to show up, but that is different from feeling as if I can’t say no or that I truly don’t want to do it. There are many things I may not love doing, but I choose to do them because I value a connection or my integrity for how I want to be in the world.
Of course, things can get messy. Even if I am not feeling obligated and would like to show up, I may, still, disappoint someone by not showing up or following through. Interactions are not simple. It may be easier to see the bigger and more obvious things in a relationship, like someone not showing up for the most important day in your life or not being there emotionally for you when you are in need or grieving. This is a call to pay attention and notice the many subtle nuances we share as well. What are we saying? What are we not saying? Are we listening? Where do we interact? Are we expecting something? Are we true to our words? Do we really know what we want on a deep level? And how are we communicating it?
Maybe years ago we had some things in common with someone, but we change and lose interest in an activity, or we want to try something new. Perhaps we experience something that is life changing—a loss of a job or a death—and it affects the way we live our lives and all of our relationships.
This is a call to notice and pay attention and choose intentionally in our interactions in each moment. We can make a conscious choice each day about how we are being in relationship, rather than letting years go by until all of a sudden we are not enjoying the friendship, or we are feeling festering anger because of what we have not dealt with, or we experience a loss of sexual interest that developed slowly over time—all because we did not actively address something or even notice what was happening right before our eyes.
Noticing, taking responsibility for ourselves, being self-aware are all important. But we can only start where we are. I will acknowledge that sometimes it has been too hard for me to say something at the time, and so it got left unsaid for way too long. There have also been times when I did not notice something about me or the situation I was involved in as soon as I would have liked. If we left something unsaid or didn’t notice something until too late, all we can do is address it at this moment in time and go forward from there.
We can’t change the past or control the future. All we can do is be present in this moment and notice what is happening now and communicate in a way that brings more awareness, is loving and, we hope, brings some resolution if needed. But the truth is that we may not find resolution.
And being present and paying attention is not just for romantic or sexual relationships. It is about noticing and being our best selves in loving relationships of all kinds—and about much more than that. Even if everything is going wonderfully, things change in our romantic relationships, our friendships and even our relationships with children.
I had a wonderful opportunity years ago to have children in my life in a meaningful way for no other reason than that they lived next door and the parents were open to the children being in my life and me being in their lives. What developed could never have been predicted or planned. The children truly made me as happy as if they came from my own body or were my own children in the way this society would identify them. The family ended up moving away, and that has been one of the most painful losses I have ever experienced.
So even when everything is perfect and we operate out of our most beautiful amazing selves, we will all leave each other, and nothing will remain the same. All things are changing in each moment, and someday the shift may be very noticeable: more distance, a death or a transition of another kind.
This is a call to notice and be in the moment and make whatever attempts we feel we need and can and want to make to be present and live our lives not having regrets. There are deaths and endings while we are alive every day. Just as every fall where I live the leaves change color and die, every year, every week and every day our relationships change, whether in obvious or subtle ways. Sometimes that change occurs in a way we can welcome and sometimes in a way we experience as a loss.
May we notice what is happening in each moment and attend to our important connections—including with ourselves—as much as possible, and not take anything for granted.
Copyright 2014 by Susan Miranda. All rights reserved. No part of this writing may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright holder. For reprint permission, email firstname.lastname@example.org.