"I was, in fact, homesick for wildness, and when I found it I knew how intimately - how resonantly - I belonged there. We are charged with this - all of us. For the human spirit has a primal allegiance to wildness, to really live, to snatch the fruit and suck it, to spill the juice." - Jay Griffiths, Wild: an Elemental Journey
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Wild, Slow-Burning Love
If you read my previous post, you know that Oldman and I went backpacking in the Smokies of North Carolina over spring break, and you know that we got caught in a thunderstorm. Just after said thunderstorm, Oldman built a wonderful fire, despite the fact that all he had to use was wet wood and a little dryer lint we had brought from home.
He began by carefully making a 3-sided cave of larger, wet logs. In the center of this cave, he placed a small pile of kindling, and a few pieces of dryer lint. He lit the lint on fire. It caught, and ignited one, tiny piece of kindling, which promptly went out from the moisture. He tried again. It lit again, burned a bit longer, and then also went out.
This lasted for about an hour. Each time the fire lasted a bit longer, but inevitably gave way to the moisture in the wood. He ever so patiently fed the little pile with fresh kindling, determined to get a fire going for us. Meanwhile, I flitted about setting up the tent, cooking our dinner, and every now and then refurbishing his stock of kindling from what I could scavenge from the dark, wet ground around our camp. And he sat patiently feeding and loving that little fire.
Finally, he got a flame to burn on its own for long enough to begin drying out the larger pieces of wood. Before the night was through, we had a beautiful, roaring fire from which to warm up before tucking into our sleeping bags.
As I often do, I saw a metaphor in this act of nature.
That fire was like my relationship history. It began with many intense, exciting bursts of flame. Each one made me think, "Ooh! He got a fire started! This is gonna be great!" and then quickly, "Oh, it's out." There was not enough fuel to keep those initial flames burning. They were lit the "easy" way, with quickly-ignitable fuel like lint and paper. They brought the instant gratification of a flame, but used up the fuel and died as briskly as they had flared up.
In the past, this is mostly how I have approached my relationships with men. "Oooh, him! Yes, him! Wahoo, he's the one! This is so fun! We're so great!" and then, "Oh, it's over. I'm bored/angry/offended/etc."
I've had a few "love at first sight" experiences in my life. Being me, I ran headfirst into them, allowed my whole life to be consumed by their intensity, and never gave a thought to the lasting fuel it would take to keep them going.
Something I've noticed about this relationship with Oldman is that it has been a slow burn. It was not love at first sight. Not even love at second or third or fourth sight. As you might remember from our how-we-met story, I was very much not looking for love. And besides, Oldman was not even my type (meaning he was not a dirty, smelly, bearded, hippie/cowboy). It took awhile for me to think of him as potential relationship material, and then to start spending time with him in that light. Even then, it took awhile for me to think of us as anything other than a fun way to pass the winter until we both went our separate ways come June.
But once I opened up to the idea of us being US, that idea ignited another, bigger idea, which ignited another, bigger idea. With patient tending, and no expectations, we have been slowly building a fire that is burning strongly on its own. It is built from the real, sustainable fuel of experience, maturity, and selfless love. There is very little ego, and very little drama.
I'm enjoying this experience of a slow burning relationship. Can I keep myself from getting bored with the lack of Jerry Springer-like chaos? I sure hope so. Can I still feel like a strong, independent woman while loving a man? Can any woman? That is the big experiment in this relationship, I think. How can I hold true to my identity, retain what is important to me, and make room for new, growing love?
I have long ago abandoned the idea of "The One," as has Oldman. The lack of expectations about longevity or official titles gives us lots of room to breathe. If we stop being an US today, or if we retain our US-ness until we are wrinkly and gray, living in some crazy commune in New Mexico with grown children named Rain and Ocean, I will chalk this up as a success. Not looking for "The One" has given me the freedom to let Oldman be "the one for right now," and "right now" can be as long as we want it to be.
Here's to a slow burning love experiment.