"We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals," wrote philosopher Immanuel Kant. Matthew 25:40 says, "Truly I say to you, Because you did it to the least of these my brothers, you did it to me." Animals, of course, are (arguably) the "lesser" of us all--but they are still living creatures that feel pain. If you'd kick an animal, or use an animal without regard for its well-being, you'd do it to a person, too.
Which leads me to a thing that's been niggling at me lately, something a friend said to me a day or so after New Year's. I was so taken aback by what she said that I didn't even bother correcting her notion. I was too busy being astonished that anybody could think that way, much less me--until it occurred to me a few days later that she was projecting.
I've said it before, and it's worth saying again: whenever somebody accuses you of an action or motivation you know damn well you didn't do or didn't think, they are merely showing you what THEY would do or think. Realizing that, I felt sad for her.
Here is the gist of the conversation: we were talking about the new year and the old--2011 was a year of some changes, some ups and downs. I mentioned that my state of mind nowadays is generally good but that sometimes I just feel a tremendous sadness, not over anything specific--in some moments I simply feel sadness, loss, grief. (This doesn't bother me, incidentally; when I was drinking, this kind of thing did, but sober, I've learned to deal with my feelings. They're just feelings. I could have just as easily said in some moments I feel great ecstasy, especially lately as my spiritual and creative lives have lifted off.)
But she mistook my meaning, assumed I was talking about my marriage, and then said the astonishing thing: "I understand. Just stay put and stay secure until you find THE ONE."
This clashes so much with how I look at things and how I'd ever treat someone that I honestly didn't know what to say and finally I mumbled something lame about there not being any such a thing as a "one" and that I love my wife. (And by that I meant I don't think having an expectation about "THE ONE" is realistic: there are ONES who come into and out of your life, filling different needs at different times, some romantic relationships, most not; no single person can be all things at all times; marriage doesn't work that way--ultimately it is the marriage itself that keeps you together, a commitment to mutual regard and respect and to doing whatever it takes to make it work.)
Which is why I would never stay put in a relationship if I were looking to replace my partner. I can't think of anything more unfair. If I'm going to leave, I'm not going to let her think everything is just fine, and I'm not going to continue reaping the benefits of the relationship until there's a convenient time to depart (i.e., when I've found her replacement). If I've decided to leave, the only fair thing to do is leave, and leave now. Anything else is nothing but selfish.
Don't misunderstand me: I'm not judging women, say, who stay in a bad marriage temporarily because they don't have a job, or if there are kids to consider. In my case, there are no children, I'm gainfully employed, and I have enough savings to do just fine.
No, I stay in my marriage because I love my wife, and I choose her. This means I choose the downs with the ups, the bad with the good, the sickness and the health, all of it; and I don't have any "pie in the sky" expectations about "THE ONE"--perfection and a constant state of infatuation every waking moment. (At least I'm guessing this is what my friend means since at present she's in the honeymoon phase of a new relationship, having left a long-term partner for this new person.)
And so I wound up feeling sad for her, although now I think I may understand her better, why she tends to act out when she's angry or disappointed. I love her dearly, but I would hate to live in her head. Then again, she'd probably laugh and agree she doesn't always like being in her own head. Oh, well, we are each on our own different paths.
I read a letter this morning that John Steinbeck wrote to his son Thom after receiving a letter from the boy in which he'd confessed he'd fallen in love:
"There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you—of kindness and consideration and respect—not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had."Acting out of love is the noblest thing a person can ever do, and Chelle brings this out of me all the time. With her, I have become a better person.
I would no sooner stay put with her, biding my time until I find someone else to "trade up" for, than I would tie a cat between two sails of a boat. There's not much difference between the two things. At least, not in my playbook.