Minding the Gap

true-love1-420x204True love takes place in a particular kind of interpersonal space between you and your beloved. I use the metaphor of a “gap” – an opening between two people across which sparks may fly. In order for true love to strengthen over time, this gap should neither be too wide, like a chasm or an abyss, nor too close as though you share the same mind. If the gap is a chasm, you feel like strangers and you are no longer familiar with one another. If the gap is too small or seems to have disappeared or collapsed, then you feel the other person is completely known by you and you lose the mystery, uncertainty and desire to inquire. Finding and maintaining an ideal gap between two people in a close relationship is often the biggest obstacle to true love.

You might be confused by the notion that true love requires a special kind of distance instead of closeness. When you read the lines from the Milosz poem: “Love means to learn to look at yourself, The way one looks at distant things,” perhaps you feel surprise or disbelief. But to become a warmly attuned witness we have to cultivate a curiosity and open-mindedness about our selves and our loved ones, which must be practiced especially in the presence of our own pain and negative feelings. Love requires us to resist knee-jerk reactions, defensiveness, tired opinions, and sometimes even cherished ideals. When you love someone, you need to pay homage to the fact that you live in different subjective worlds. And that’s why the poet says you need to learn to look at yourself the way one looks at distant things.