Hinterhof by James Fenton
Stay near to me and I’ll stay near to you —
As near as you are dear to me will do,
Near as the rainbow to the rain,
The west wind to the windowpane,
As fire to the hearth, as dawn to dew.
Stay true to me and I’ll stay true to you —
As true as you are new to me will do,
New as the rainbow in the spray,
Utterly new in every way,
New in the way that what you say is true.
Stay near to me, stay true to me. I’ll stay
As near, as true to you as heart could pray.
Heart never hoped that one might be
Half of the things you are to me —
The dawn, the fire, the rainbow and the day
“Hinterhof” by James Fenton, from Yellow Tulips: Poems 1986-2011. © Faber & Faber, 2011.
Recently I was listening to a friend describe some challenges in their love life and I was filled with empathy and sadness for them. The person they are in love with is what I refer to in my own mind as a “transactional lover.” To them love is an exchange. They provide their idea of love to get something in return. Sometimes what they are seeking is affection, rescue, financial security, comfort, friendship, even company… it can be many things. In exchange for it, they will be your lover, your partner, they will try to give you what you ask for.
The problem with these relationships is that both partners end up feeling that they are trying to earn each others love. On the one hand, the transactional lover feels obliged to give in to the partner to appease them to earn what they need from the relationship all the while resenting it. In their minds, they are earning, buying and paying for that “love” and they want whatever they feel they’ve negotiated.
The less transaction based partner who is unaware of this may just love unconditionally, gives freely and doesn’t really understand the dynamics at play. It may seem to them that no matter how much they give, reassure and love, it never seems to truly satisfy the transactional lover. They aren’t reassured, they can’t seem to really just settle down and commit to the relationship. It might feel that they always have one foot out the door. It’s true, because for the transactional person, the earning and striving to transact IS the relationship. The need to maintain the ability to walk away is how you maintain the power to renegotiate terms as needed. With a transactor, power always resides with the one who is most willing to walk away.The concept of loving unconditionally is foreign and unbelievable and the idea of willingly giving up power and being vulnerable to a loved one to demonstrate commitment seems a special kind of insanity.
The mismatch between these two styles can be incredibly painful, primarily for the person who is capable of unconditional love. Because most transactional lovers will see someone who is strong enough to love this way as weak, will view them as easily manipulated and have little respect for them. Their indifference, power games, inability to recognize the gifts they are being offered are deeply offensive to the psyche of the more open and vulnerable unconditional lover who is laying their whole heart out in a display of remarkable courage. Unconditional lovers see this relentless manipulation and game playing by the transactional lover and often choose to overlook it and give anyway, out of love. They hope that somehow security and repeated demonstrations of acceptance, reassurance and love will eventually soothe the soul of the person they love. Alas, in my experience it doesn’t happen.
If someone doesn’t believe in unconditional love, they are not only unable to return it, which is what my friend really deserves, they are unable to see it, believe it, even accept it from someone else.
The hardest part when you are in such a situation is acknowledging that there is nothing you can do to help them see the world the way you do. If you think about real love, true love…think of your mother, father, your children, of course they don’t have to do anything to earn your love. They just are, and that’s enough. You’ll know someone is important to you when it’s not what they do for you or how they make you feel, so much as when you think of them you are just so happy and filled with warmth and joy that you know them. Their existence is enough for you. That’s real love.
It’s hard to let go of people. It’s hard to learn how to lose. Accepting loss is one of those things I’ve written about before. It’s just a part of life that has to be faced, embraced and lived. It will hurt. It will heal. It takes time. I personally work hard to stay in a place of acceptance every day. I choose to believe that those of us who love unconditionally are blessed. I know I found my way here through many struggles and losses. I finally believe I deserve to be loved the same way in return. God loves me this way. I have him if no one else. I love people this way and that’s OK. If someday, God wills it, perhaps someone will look into me and find me that lovable as well.
I pray this for my friend. I hope they come to believe that the ability they have to love deserves that kind of love in return. I hope they come to believe that happiness and joy can be their lot in life. There is no one I know that deserves it more. They have been through so much, learned how to make good decisions from making bad ones, drawn close to God and they have one of the most generous and giving spirits of anyone I’ve ever known. I hope that they can trust that God will see them through.
So I’m sending out a special poem/prayer for my friend. It always makes me feel better, find a little peace:
Father, I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me,
and in all Your creatures –
I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into your hands I commend my soul;
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you Lord,
and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands,
and with boundless confidence,
For you are my Father.
Billy Collins, “Man in Space” from The Art of Drowning. Copyright © 1995 by Billy Collins. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Reprinted with the permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press, www.pitt.edu/~press/.
Poem copyright ©1980 by Lisel Mueller, from her most recent book of poems, Alive Together: New and Selected Poems, Louisiana State University Press, 1996. Poem reprinted by permission of Lisel Mueller and the publisher.
BY AMY LOWELL
Billy Collins, “Questions About Angels” from Questions about Angels. Copyright © 1991 by Billy Collins. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Reprinted with the permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press, www.pitt.edu/~press/.