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Faith and Values: Navigating love’s labyrinth

UPDATED: Sat., Feb. 17, 2018

Valerie Deschamps-Goren, right, holds hands with Basil Gravanis while dining at a Waffle House restaurant decorated for Valentine's Day in Atlanta, Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. It’s the time of year when many people think about love, but navigating relationships is seldom as straightforward as breakfast, columnist Tracy Simmons writes. (David Goldman / AP)
Valerie Deschamps-Goren, right, holds hands with Basil Gravanis while dining at a Waffle House restaurant decorated for Valentine's Day in Atlanta, Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. It’s the time of year when many people think about love, but navigating relationships is seldom as straightforward as breakfast, columnist Tracy Simmons writes. (David Goldman / AP)
By Tracy Simmons For The Spokesman-Review

With red hearts donning people’s houses and pink chocolate boxes bursting from store displays, it’s hard not to think about romance this month.

We all want and deserve love. Finding it, keeping it and giving it is hard, though. Love is labyrinthine.

Navigating it is a risk I’m glad I’ve taken, but it took years to make that decision.

My dad left when I wasn’t quite 2 years old, yet somehow I brought him into all my relationships. As I would get close to someone, he would remind me how afraid I was of dismissal, of how much I doubted my self-worth. He would make me question my ability to love, reminding me that running away was always an option.

His walls were my walls. My dad came from a broken home, just like me. He had a parent abandon him, just like me. His attempt at love only left people hurt, and so would mine.

Of course, none of this was true. I just had to learn how to maneuver love without his abandonment whispering in my ear.

I found that instruction in two places: The Bible and the Buddha.

The Bible taught me what love is in 1st Corinthians 13:4-7:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

It’s a famous and profound passage that teaches me love never gives up, is forgiving, is selfless. I want to be able to love that way, and I want to be loved that way.

But if found, wouldn’t I want to entangle myself in it? And doesn’t that mean that one day I would have to disentangle myself from it? That sounds like an invitation to heartache.

And that’s where the Buddha comes in.

He said, “The root of suffering is attachment.”

It’s further explained by “upadana,” which is a Buddhist concept that means finding something and wanting to hold on to it – no matter what. In other words: clinging to someone or something.

Clinging to someone sounds nice though, doesn’t it? Holding tightly to my partner is paradisal and I don’t think the Buddha would want me to give that up.

The definition of “cling” here is being overly dependent on someone emotionally. By doing that, we summon suffering.

My friend Sarah Conover, an author here in Spokane, once wrote on SpokaneFaVS.com that, “A Buddhist practitioner must discover and maintain a weird double vision by holding close the fact that we will lose everything we cherish while at the same time recognizing that life’s fragility makes each relationship ever more precious.”

It applies to everyone seeking love – Buddhist practitioner or not.

Applying nonattachment to love makes for a weird Valentine, I know. But for me, it’s helped me set reasonable expectations around love and that, I hope, makes me a better partner. And once I learned what love was, I was able to stop listening to my dad’s whispers and be free of his betrayal.

So now I find myself holding my partner’s hand and trying to navigate love’s maze. I know highs and lows and twists are ahead, but I’m treasuring every moment because I’ve come to understand that philosopher Lao Tzu’s words are true, “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”

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