The following thoughts are not politically correct. Feel free to substitute "she" for "he", or vice-versa. :)
As a human female, it seems I am both biologically wired and socially conditioned to find and maintain connection. That is not to say that males don't want love and understanding. We all do. But women seem to be more adept than men at weaving great stories of lifelong love and intimacy, which we attempt to fulfill. We tend to "build" family, build identities based upon our ideas of what family and relationship and various kinds of intimacy should be. Sometimes we do it consciously, but it is an underground drive, for the most part, only attended (usually in a reactive way) when some element of our relationship strays outside of boundaries we have unconsciously set.
When this happens, there's a "problem". Most men I know recognize, and perhaps fear, that moment. She wants to talk. She wants to address. She wants him to conform more closely to her ideas. Most of the time, she can't adequately express what the "problem" is, because she hasn't followed it to its source; she simply feels a terrible or vague wrongness somewhere, one that she expects her mate to understand. Unless there is a huge issue wrapped in alcohol, infidelity or some other form of abuse, he is generally confused. Out of love or care or dread, he bargains by soothing or doing whatever he can to smooth out the surface of the situation. It's perhaps the best he can do. Most men don't sign up to be a counselor when they enter a relationship. They aren't experts in the feminine psyche. And we females, for the most part, aren't either...just caught in an emotional pattern.
(Again, by saying "male" and "female", I'm not ignoring or disrespecting same-sex relationships or atypical roles; I could just as well say "passive" and "aggressive", or just "different"...pick your dichotomy.)
I am a long-time veteran of both gender and general misunderstanding. I don't want to address the terrain of that field any further here, except to say that it's a "fact" of life, and there are thousands of good books on the subject (most of which, I've doubtless read). They are full of solid advice on understanding, compromising and overcoming all the difficulties in relating to someone who isn't "me". All of this education has its place, to be sure, and is very valuable for anyone without the luxury of a Tibetan cave retreat in hard times. :)
Once again, as always, I would rather look at what happens when we get tired of emotional terrorism--planting bombs and running for shelter, spending life in a steel bunker pretending to negotiate with the enemy, blowing ourselves up over and over in the name of love. This isn't just a gender phenomenon--it's human. It isn't just a war with an "other"; it's war with ourselves. After many years of swinging from what we imagine is bliss to conflict to truce to devastation of one kind or another, it seems that the only answer is total and utter retreat and refusal to relate. Or die trying.
There isn't one person of my acquaintance who carries no wounds. Anyone reading this has matured in a time of war of some kind. We have grown up reactive and touchy and volatile, or trying to avoid those that are. As a consequence, we defend; we create a template of personality to filter raw connecting, to keep ourselves safe from pain, to make some kind of order out of what we believe is chaos. The frightened child, the numbly conditioned animal within is always on the alert, always trying to gain an advantage and seeing the entire world in terms of its own survival.
But it isn't real.
I came to this understanding by degrees. I became conscious of the dynamic long ago, but only the bare surface of it; even then, I believed in my defensive characters enough to feel that I had to somehow compromise with them. They terrified me. I was convinced that I needed them, that I somehow could not handle life without their warnings, their plans, the structure they provided and told me was essential.
Of course this sounds crazy--it is! Virtual reality, and virtual relationship, is felt to be safer, preferable to direct experience. Even worse, many of us believe that such living is what life is. We live and love through a pattern of personality that we recreate for every single encounter, every single assessment of incoming data--like a machine or a computer. As if a computer could actually feel.
We believe we are in relationship when in fact we are neighboring states, busily patrolling our own imaginary borders and alert for the first signs of incursion. It's a draining enterprise with no real victory, full of cold conflict, hollow actions and no substance.
Last Valentine's Day, I saw plenty of couples out on the beach for a day of walking, sexual contact or fighting (or all three). I saw quite a few hearts drawn in the sand while the other stood tolerantly by. I noticed a few bitter rock-kickers and shell-throwers. I saw dogs happily destroying the sentiments under their feet in the quest for the stick or the wave. I felt one or two really contented people out of all of them around me.
I'm not sure why, but I no longer envy the young and in-lust, and I am tired of bitterness. I can't honestly explain the wide-open territory I find myself in today, except to say that, from this place, I can clearly and starkly see the personality, the mask, through which I played out the dramas of my relationships and other aspects of life. In the initial stepping back, coming out of the role I had carried, I was literally startled to find myself whole, find myself staring from that perspective at a kind of plastic version of myself who, somehow, no longer had the last word.
I saw that she was a skin, a limitation, an outgrown method. And she knew that I knew, and didn't even attempt to fight. She just left. This time, I let her go. I was vulnerable and empty and completely without a plan, or a desire, or a way to redraw the borders. Standing with myself no longer meant guarding, but just being...who I am. And that is a kind of love that can never be negotiated, won or lost. It can't be contained, it can't be a container. It's packed with more electricity than my hottest encounters (really!), more live juice than I know what to do with. So I don't attempt to know anymore.
This applies to every type of relationship and structure apparent to me in what I call "my" life, this individuated dream. I no longer want to predict how these things will rise or fall...there is no need. But I must tell you, this isn't a gooey logic, or a soft and fuzzy way to "cope". There is just truly nothing to cope with. I have never actually been abandoned, betrayed or otherwise compromised. My perceived wounds simply found expression as characters in a play that I used to explain hurt, or fear, as Maria the anti-hurt, or anti-fear. Perpetuating the same illusory conditions, naturally.
In this story, in order to speak at all, I must define myself as a particular cresting ripple on the big ocean of life. There is no shortage of definition out there...each person that I contact has a name for me, a comfortable role that I fill (or not). But none of these stories between us are true in and of themselves. Recognizing a social or emotional contract or description for what it is does not make it null and void; it does present the ultimate range of choice, however, as to how to live your perfect freedom. The love that we are is exactly that.
I am truer to myself when I say that I am not what anyone thinks or assumes I am, nor what I assume my character to be. Somehow I have become most comfortable as the matrix of the give/take cycle, something indefinable and quite aware of the temporary nature of what most people call "love". There is not a damn thing I can do about it, either. I can't change minds or the world or my own heart; relaxing into that fact is the most loving thing I can do. All appropriate action comes from there. All real love...