Every now and then, I get letters from people who stumble across this blog on their travels through the web. Every now and then, these letters seek an opinion or advice on a subject. I received one weeks ago, and I've though about it on and off... wondering what I might say in response.
The subject of this inquiry is on relationships--romantic relationships in particular. I've been single for a long time and I don't count myself an expert in this arena. Disclaimers aside, here's the question:
On my mind lately has been two words: peace and happiness (I keep hearing Al Green sing them, ala "Love and Happiness"). But I keep thinking of them as different, the difference between peace and happiness. I am not sure what that difference is exactly.
And particularly I have been thinking about my current love relationship, and all of the love relationships I have had (not that many), and asking whether they brought me much peace. I think we pursue relationships in order to find happiness, but perhaps we don't ask often enough whether they bring us peace.
Any thoughts? Any experiences that come to mind? Does a useful definition of the difference between peace and happiness come to mind?
Maybe I'm cynical. I don't know that relationships are designed to bring us happiness or peace. While in relationship to another, we may experience happiness and peace, but I don't know that it is the job of the relationship to provide those experiences.
From a Buddhist perspective, I think peace and happiness are found in the present moment and that each individual in a relationship is charged with finding his or her own peace and happiness. A relationship is an occasion for joy and peace when two people find they can meet each other in a moment--whether intimate or mundane--with compassionate attention and awareness.
But let's face it... relationships can be messy.
They are messy because we have expectations that go unmet. We want someone to be something to us--partner, lover, friend, whatever--and we have a list of job duties for the role we want them to fill. They meet less than 99.9% of our requirements and we are unhappy. They don't complete their assignments in a timely manner and we want to fire them. We think we made the wrong choice... picked the wrong person. Maybe we did. Maybe we are too picky--too attached to our ideals--too focused what's supposed to be in our perfect picture to focus on what's wonderful in this moment. We have a bad day and we want our partner to do that thing (whatever that thing is) that makes us feel better. Maybe they come home with their own bad day experience and don't live up to our desires for the moment. Instead of being attentive and encouraging, maybe they are withdrawn and sulky--focused on their own concerns.
Relationships are messy because they aren't made harmonious by magic. The magic happens as a result of commitment from both sides to grow together. The magic happens when people recognize the things they do to get in the way of the peace and happiness that can arise in a relationship and take action to get out of the way.
Relationships are messy because long-term interaction between two people requires a constant letting go and often a willingness to change. There can be no peace between people who hold on to disagreements or past hurts. There can be no peace between people who are unwilling to look at their patterns and the affect those patterns have on the people around them.
I think a lot of the work that makes for great interpersonal relationships is personal, solitary work. We often think relationships are supposed to make our lives better in some way, and maybe they do... but I think they only work when we are willing to work on ourselves... and the more we work on ourselves the more prepared we are to participate in healthy/fun/peaceful/happy/_insert adjective of choice_ relationships with others.
I think there is only one reason to ever enter into a relationship. You don't enter a relationship for what you might get out of it (though you might get a lot). You enter a relationship to connect with another person who shares the desire to connect with you. During the course of that connection, there might be great joy, great sadness, great peace, great turmoil, great pleasure, and great pain. Relationships, like everything else, are impermanent and subject to constant change. Perhaps peace and happiness are found in realizing just that.