When you get that tap on the shoulder

Acrylic montage of human shapes floating in space. Freedom feels like floating in space - falling, rising, and discovering - free to be you.

Sir Winston Churchill once said that to each one of us there comes in their lifetime a special moment when you are, figuratively speaking, tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to your talents.

If I could pinpoint the time I first recognised my ‘tap on the shoulder’, it was when I was invited to speak at a wedding.  My relationship with the engaged couple was through the mother of the bride, and I assumed I would be sharing a few prosperous wishes to cheer them on their future journey. I was astounded, when my friend said, “I want you to talk about love.”. Tap, tap.

Onto my second marriage, I was hardly a shining example of marital success. Nothing has thrown me more curveballs and challenges than the issue of love, or one of love’s many threads, marriage.

Weeks of worry preceded my putting pen to paper What was I going to say?  What could I tell this couple about love that might break through the glorious fizz-pop mix of youth, success, lust, and the feeling of being in-love when my own track record seemed so dismal?  My inner critic had a field day. ‘Hypocrite’, ‘Charlatan’, ‘Phoney’, it screamed. Tap, tap!

So, I did what is now a familiar pattern in my life when life gets tricky – prayed, read, journaled, and reflected.  Technically I was researching for my wedding speech, but in hindsight, the seeking belonged to my own heart as well.

During my research, I was struck by how, when we talk about marriage or long-term relationships, we use the words ‘love and commitment’ as though both words have the same or similar meaning, when in fact they are completely different. They have surely got to be one of life’s greatest contradictions. Little or no thought is given to the paradox that occurs between the two.

Whether a civil union, a de facto relationship, or marriage, everything about commitment suggests togetherness – a partnership, a binding of two people who commit to a relationship. Commitment is where plans and decisions are made that best serve the relationship – the doing part of the relationship; a conscious choice, the ‘outside-in’ framework. And when you feel deeply ‘in-love’, commitment can feel remarkably, albeit mistakenly, like love.

Now here’s the paradox. While commitment has everything to do with togetherness, love, is about letting one another go. Committed to being together while at the same time, as German Psychoanalyst, Eric Fromm says, “preserving one’s integrity, one’s individuality”. The ‘being’ part of the relationship.

Acrylic montage of human shapes floating in space. Freedom feels like floating in space - falling, rising, and discovering - free to be you.
Falling, rising, and discovering – free to be you. Artist: Louise Taiaroa

Traveling with Pomegranates is a lovely story where mother and daughter authors, Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor chronicle their evolving relationship on a trip to Greece.

Ann, soon to be married, recalls a recent event when her mother gifted her a small box – a wedding gift. Inside the box lay three linked pieces of chain with a card that read,

“Years ago, your father and I adopted this piece of chain as a symbol for our marriage. The two outer links represent each of our lives, and the center link, our marriage. It reminds us that we have independent lives, dreams, and journeys, but at the same time, we are joined in a center space where our lives are one.”

And that was the message I delivered to the young couple on their wedding day. Commitment and love – intrinsically woven, yet individually apart. To walk together and to walk alone. One a journey of togetherness the other a journey of self. I stood that day and hoped that what I shared would be as liberating for them as it was for me.  What I did not know at the time was just how tough ‘liberation’, is to attain.

Which brings me to my next question(s). Can a woman remain true to herself when she is in a committed relationship?  The most important relationship in your life is the relationship you have with yourself. But how do we live independent lives, dreams, and journeys? How do we walk alone, the journey of the self, amongst the committed togetherness of a long-term relationship? How do we stay single, AND be married? Tap, tap.

Tough questions I hope to explore in my next few blogs.

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