We talk about love as a gift, but even if at the beginning it could not be considered, as Percy Shelley defined a "faint of joy without words", the true intimacy between two people is a difficult conquest – a glory conquered with a so high that the prospect of collapse is absolutely devastating. When collapse occurs – when intimacy is interrupted by a confusing whirl of possibility and choice – the measure of a love is if and to what extent the core of the connection can be recovered when the shell cracks, how much is arranged partners to remain open while with the heart broken, how much mutual care and kindness the two who have loved each other can extend into the almost superhuman effort to redeem the closeness after separation.
How to do this with the utmost integrity, in a way that embodies the definition of Adrienne Rich of honorable human relationships, is what the poet Rainer Maria Rilke (December 4, 1875 – December 29, 1926) explores one of his incredibly insightful letters, included in the posthumous collection Letters on life (public Library), published and translated from German by Ulrich Baer.
The day after Christmas 1921, almost two decades after asserting that "for a human being to love another … is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks … the work for which all the rest is work but preparation" and four years later the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay modeled the art of the genre, a clean separation, Rilke writes in a letter to the German painter Reinhold Rudolf Junghanns – a dear friend who struggles through separation and aching for loss dell & # 39; love:
As soon as two people have decided to renounce their being together, the resulting pain with its heaviness or particularity is already so completely part of the life of every individual that the other must severely deny himself to become sentimental and feel pity. The beginning of the agreed separation is marked by this pain, and its first challenge will be that this pain already it belongs separately to each of the two individuals. This pain is an essential condition of what the individual now solitary and more alone will have to create in the future from his claimed life.
Consider the measure of a "good break" – a separation that, however painful in its immediate loss, is a long-term gain for both partners, individually and together:
If two people managed not to get stuck in hate during their sincere struggles with each other, that is to say, at the edge of their passion that became teary and acute when it cools and sets , if they could remain fluid, active, flexible and changeable in all their interactions and relationships and, in a word, if a mutually human and friendly consideration has remained at their disposal, then their decision to separate can not easily evoke disasters and terror .
Four weeks later, while Junghann continues to struggle to let go of his lover, Rilke cautions against the painful resilience of on-again / off-again relationships, where the short-term alleviation of craving and loss comes to price of mutual mutual injury:
When it comes to a separation, the pain should already belong in its entirety to that other life from which you wish to separate. Otherwise the two individuals will continually become soft towards each other, causing unprotected and unproductive suffering. In the process of a well-agreed separation, however, pain itself is an important investment in renewal and in the new beginning that must be achieved by both parties.
Rilke emphasizes the importance of an initial period of distance in order to properly recalibrate a romantic relationship into a true friendship – a period that requires a huge leap of faith towards a new mode of uncertain connection, but possibly immensely gratifying:
People in your situation may have to communicate as friends. But then these two separate lives should remain without any knowledge of the other for a time and exist as far and further from the other as possible. This is necessary so that every life is firmly based on its new needs and circumstances. Any subsequent contact (which can therefore be truly new and perhaps very happy) must remain a question of unpredictable design and direction.
That fall, Rilke advises another friend with a broken heart – this time a woman – through a similar situation. Noting that "our confusions have always been part of our wealth," reiterates that whatever the push towards the meeting, it is crucial to distance yourself to get a clearer perspective on saving what is worth saving the report. In a mirror image complementary to his wisdom on the stimulating need to give space in love, he insists on the difficult and necessary art of taking up space after love:
I wrote "distance"; if there were any advice like what I would be able to suggest, it would be the feeling that you should look for it now, for the distance. Distance: from the current dismay and from those new conditions and proliferations of your soul that you enjoyed when they occurred, but of which until now you never really took possession. A brief isolation and separation of a few weeks, a period of reflection and a new focus of your crowded and unbridled nature would offer the greatest chance of saving everything that appears in the process of destruction in itself and for itself.
Rilke warns against the temptation to turn a blindly blind eye towards all the factors that made the romantic relationship unattainable and to come together – a choice that, rather than healing, only ritraumatizes and perpetuates the cycle of mutual disappointment:
Nothing blocks people in error as much as the daily repetition of the mistake – and how many individuals who eventually tied each other in a frozen destiny could have secured, through some small, very pure separations , the rhythm through which the mysterious mobility of their hearts would be permanently inexhaustible in the deep closeness of their inner world-space, through every alteration and change.
There is a symmetry, both sad and beautiful, between Rilke's faith in the redemptive power of distance in saving love after a break and her insistence that "the highest task of a bond between two people [is] that everyone should be on guard against the loneliness of the other "- as in romance, then beyond romance.
Complete this particular part of the immeasurably wise and comforting Letters on life with Epictetus on love and loss and Adam Phillips on why frustration is necessary for satisfaction in love, then revisit Rilke on what it really means to love, the combinatorial nature of inspiration, the lonely patience of creative work, what it takes to be an artist and how difficulties widen us.