I have been reflecting a lot lately, and especially this week, on arranged marriages. And I’ve recalled a story of an arranged marriage from within my own family history, where two sweethearts were forbidden to marry and each had to start a family with someone else instead, due to Italian cultural norms. In the case of my ancestors, at least, this reluctant, arranged marriage metamorphosed into a deep mutual adoration and devotion, a truly happy lifelong love. My ponderings over their story (and related ideas) have been part of some bigger reflections on love — in any form — as a choice. And on how deeply rewarding it is when we resolve to meet people where they are, and love them as they are. When we CHOOSE to appreciate them; honor them; support them; hear them; see and celebrate their most beautiful qualities.
Which means, also, approaching with respect those qualities we might not have chosen.
This is an active commitment to meeting on the level of, and honoring, a soul. And it is life-changing. The world needs to be doing so much more of this right now.
Oddly enough, amidst all of this contemplation, I received an email just yesterday from a woman I haven’t heard from in THREE YEARS. This woman is a very distant cousin of mine. She, I, and at least FIVE generations of our respective families EXIST thanks to that one particular arranged marriage over a century ago.
Why her? Why now? Life has a funny sense of timing.
I’d like to imagine that these ancestors I’ve never met are looking in on me, and smiling. I, too, am one of the fruits of the love they chose to “make.”
I am not here to advocate arranged marriage. Not in any way. But let me tell you why I was thinking about arranged marriage in the first place: I have very long believed that you shouldn’t have to TRY to like or love somebody, if you are truly “right for” one another. That’s not to say I believe it “should” be love at first sight (In fact, I am pretty skeptical of most claims of “love” at first sight.), but just that, when you’ve truly found the right people, people from your soul’s “tribe,” there’s an immediate sense of ease, mutual admiration, and warmth, and an awareness that you seem to fit quite naturally onto the same wavelength when it comes to things like values. (Values, after all, are the blueprints for the type of world we want to create. And the most kindred of souls would be working with the same set of blueprints — right? Not so convinced anymore, but at least this is how I used to think.)
When you find your closest soulmates, there is a sense of “coming home,” and it doesn’t have to be searched for. What there is not, I always presumed, is aversion. Not anxiety, not exasperation, not anger, not “We are NOT compatible!” and certainly not “Oh, my God. Is this really how they see the world? I just can’t.”
But. . . The past couple of years have whipped up some spectacularly fated occasions when people from this latter category walked into my life, and despite my initial resistance, life was making it reeeeeeally clear that this was, indeed, how things were meant to be. When this happened, I did something important: I made the choice not to run from them. (Because, in the end, despite some jarring ideological differences, they were pretty cool people.) I made the choice to befriend them. To hear them. And to respond to our differences with calm and patience and unflagging respect.
As anyone can guess, this has, at times, been tremendously exhausting. But it has also been tremendously rewarding. Because I found that, underneath all of the seeming “differences,” I could feel the ways that our souls were. . . not really all that different. I saw how our souls had emerged — perhaps equally disoriented — from the same crucibles. I saw how, despite the fact that we had different seats, we are observers in the same, grand cosmic show. Or, more specifically, players on the same grand, cosmic stage.
Maybe even playwrights of that same grand, cosmic show. Or architects of that same, grand cosmic stage.
Just a bunch of masters collaborating with one another.
(. . . We all are!)
So, over time, I transitioned from “passively” accepting these people’s presence in my life. . . to engaging them with active curiosity. . . to engaging them with wonder. . . to feeling grateful-beyond-words for the fact that life had “forced” us into one another’s orbits (Ha! “One another’s”? Our orbits were actually always the same.). . . and then to resolving to meet them where they were, and love them as they are.
And I have. Wholly and sincerely. And it is a love that is no less real or valuable than the love I have for people who feel like part of my “tribe.” There are so many different kinds of love stories; none is any less “magical” than another. All love is divine. “All love is the love of God.” (in the words of Eckhart Tolle)
You hear all this “Find your tribe!” stuff nowadays. And I used to believe that this was exactly what I needed to do if I wanted to do the most growing, healing, or loving. But ohhhh, no. Boy, was I wrong. Now I lean towards believing that we can connect with pretty much anybody in a meaningful way.
Because of these people’s presence in my life, I am a better person. I’d like to hope that they, too, could say the same about my influence in theirs. Since meeting them, I’ve become far more open-hearted, more able to enjoy the moment, more trusting in the Universe’s benevolence. And since meeting me, they’ve become more egalitarian, more empathic. Where once we had disagreements, we now have passionate shared convictions.
This, and more, is the magic we can work when we make an active commitment to love. Or, at the very least to — here’s a term one of these people introduced me to — “unconditional positive regard.”
So this is what’s been on my mind recently: the unexpected, unconditional loves that grow because we CHOOSE to bring love to the table. Through all of this, I can see how some arranged marriages turn into lifetime loves, and how other “We couldn’t stand each other at first, but now we adore each other” situations could possibly be real. I believe that love is the default condition; on some level, love “should” require no effort. We have been conditioned, however, to reject so much and so many. In those situations, we do have to put in the effort not to block love; it won’t usually happen by accident. But when we actively, consciously CHOOSE to love. . . love is, indeed, what we’re left with, and we find ourselves a little closer to Heaven.