Saintly Thoughts

On Relationships & Pain

It is easy for persons who abides by themselves to become self-satisfied.  "Look at us" we might imagine them to declaim, "the world is overridden with horrible persons who do horrible things to one another out of cruelty and jealousy and inattention.  They are wracked with petty and uncontrollable passions which poison their existence and cause them to do unspeakable things and react in irrational ways.  While we who live by ourselves alone and cast off the bonds of familial piety, group loyalty, and strong personal attachment, retain a calm and philosophic demeanor.  This must be because we are the good and wise ones who have seen (or at least intuited) the folly of strong and abiding attachment and have holed ourselves up into a self-contained universe of our own creation."  

I am not here speaking of the hermit, mind you.  I am speaking more of a person such as Professor Higgins in Shaw's play "Pygmalion" who decries the ties of wife and family because he perceives that such responsibilities would unsettle his calm and demure demeanor, setting him instead on a path of constant emotional and auditory disruption which might cause him to respond to situations in ways which seemed abhorrent to his sophisticated self.  And he is not incorrect, as anyone who has ever endeavored to live in a committed relationship will attest.  For to live alone (and this even if one is surrounded by people who are not unduly significant to them) means that one may hide from the world their worst characteristics, and choose only to express those aspects of themselves (what sociologists call the "public persona") that they have found desirable to others.  

But in relationships, when we are forced to live deeply and closely with another human person, the mask comes off.  We can hide our undesirable qualities even from ourselves (perhaps especially from ourselves) but we cannot hide them from those close to us.  This invariably will cause us to be irritable, for who likes to be in a situation in which their faults are made manifest?  It is for this reason that the marital relationship and the relationship between parent and child are some of the most contentious, leading sometimes so far as to invoke bloodshed.  For we are unmasked by our relationships, unable to live in the lie of our demure calm.  Confronted by the terror of ourselves and of our equally terrified partner, we are faced with two choices--change or escape.  

This is why relationships are so vital, for they strip away the veneer of our lies and force us to face the purgatorial fires of the rage and love of another.  And thus the paradox of human relationships, for they are both necessary to our moral development and yet extremely painful in turn.  Perhaps this is why humanity constructed the myth of "happily ever after" for what happiness there is in such close relationships comes only at the expense of pain and suffering.  We who are not yet wise would flee such agony if we were presented with the truth, and this flight would not be to our benefit.  

And so happy is he (and she) who finds not marital bliss but rather strife and enmity; for such fire is meant to hone and temper the material of the soul.  Those who live alone, content in the lie of their emotional equilibrium, will find their soul brittle and will break when faced with the awesome heat of Being.