There are plenty of things that reach their prime long before we enter mid-life. Love is not one of them. Love is something we are continually discovering about our selves; it is a grand art, creating fresh forms with each passing year.
The poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote beautifully of love’s evolution: “Young people, who are beginners in everything, cannot yet know love: they have to learn it….Love is at first not anything that means merging, giving over, and uniting with another (for what would a union be of something unclarified and unfinished, still subordinate). It is a high inducement to the individual to ripen, to become something in [her]self.”
I know this is true from my own history of love: when I was very young my love was wonderfully innocent and trusting. My adolescent love was full of fantasies of Prince Charming and I was taken with the story of Snow White awaiting the kiss of a prince. In my 20’s and 30’s, I loved my “other half,” reaching for wholeness through relationship. In mid-life, love is radically more than I could have dreamed at any previous stage. In different ways, for each of us, love is a living story of our deepest nature.
Think about your living love story, not the story based on life circumstance such as finding a soul-mate, having wonderful children, an enduring marriage, dear friends, or a close family. Although relationships and the contexts in which we come to know love are important, I’m talking about the great mystery of love itself and the deeper story, so personal to you that it’s inseparable from who you are. Love isn’t something that is limited to the right conditions, the perfect partner, or a special relationship. Love is something we discover about ourselves, the constant openness we can practice and choose, no matter the circumstances.
The wonderful, radical good fortune of mid-life is that we know where to look for the love that won’t leave us, the love that is constant and enduring, evolving in us even as circumstances ebb and flow. Our challenge is to stay in touch with our hearts and savor our growing capacity to love.
It can be hard to see love as a constant when having someone to love is what usually brings it out in us. Yet it is the ripened heart that makes all forms of love possible. We may think love is due to something very special about the other person or it’s the luck of good chemistry. We think “I’ve finally found the right person!” Well, that may be so. There really are some people who are particularly good at helping us to feel the love within us. I know that’s true of my husband. Many women have told me that just holding an infant will do it. Or the unexpected kindness of a stranger. So many things can bring our heart’s forward and our tenderness out, returning us to contact with something constant but perhaps forgotten or overlooked within us. Love is both our nature and the call to become all of who we can be.
Notice how you are different when you re-enter the state of love. It’s the “Wow!” experience, the moment of epiphany when the world just opens up. And, by mid-life we’ve figured it out: “We” are the world that just opened up! And our living love story turns to the chapter where we are guided by the questions: How do I most want to love? What new form will my love take?