It’s 3:21 a.m., and I can’t sleep because I realize I am head over heels for a co-worker. The problem is that I have a girlfriend whom I love very much. She is a blessing to me because I had given up on finding someone honest. Now, I am the biggest hypocrite in the world because I am thinking about letting go of her to pursue this other woman. I am afraid to spend time alone with this woman because, when I do, I am sick to my stomach. She doesn’t know it, but she opens up feelings for me that my girlfriend can’t. I am ashamed of how I feel and wish we’d never met.
You write that your girlfriend is a blessing. I read recently that the word “blessing” has roots in the French word meaning “to wound.” Certainly, those who are nearest and dearest have an awesome ability to wound our egos. For the insightful among us, those wounds can inspire transfiguration (a blessing). But if we are not ready for such a delicious shift, we elevate our partners to superior positions over us (perhaps believing they can see us more clearly than we see ourselves) and ruin our potential for equality in the relationship. Or, we run away—first emotionally and then physically.
If your relationship with your girlfriend is as sweet as you say, it also may be scary because it holds a promise of increased intimacy and intensified commitment. Such fear creates a stack of worries between the ears: What if there’s someone better for me out there? What if I lose who I am in this relationship? An inexplicable attraction, usually to a person (but sometimes to career goals), distracts from those worries and from the necessary work of the relationship. So, don’t be ashamed. Your thoughts may be the product of resisting the loving commitment you have with your girlfriend. Pay attention to the nausea you feel in your co-worker’s presence and, because you value trust (which is predicated on truth), talk to your girlfriend about your co-worker. Doing so will take the charge out of your secret (and probably out of the attraction), dissolve your fear of being a hypocrite and allow you to work it out together. If you value trust, live it.
Until three years ago, I was in a relationship with someone who I thought was my life partner. When she suddenly (and without reason) moved out, my heart was broken. I have been in two relationships since but was not emotionally available and so recoiled when they became serious. I really believed I would never love again, but I have now fallen in love. I am scared to death of being vulnerable, being known or making a fool of myself. Could you give me some perspective on how to love and have a meaningful romantic relationship?
There is a Buddhist teacher who cautions against falling in love. His refreshing recommendation is that we ought to stand in love. I think that such an image allows us to be grounded and capable for what is surely the true work of our lives. Genuine love involves radical truth, trust, commitment, selfless caring, challenge and risk. So, your fears are realistic. You will be vulnerable, known and a fool if you love another really well because you’ll risk ruining any personae with which you’ve grown comfortable. Here’s some medicine: When fear arises, return to the components of genuine love (truth, trust etc.) and push yourself to be vulnerable. If you are with the right partner, the experience will draw you both into intimacy.