We grow the most where we meet and confront discomfort. The edge is where the truth lies.
When I was in the process of breaking up with M., the thought of leaving him made me uncomfortable.
Actually, it was more than uncomfortable. It was scary as hell. I was:
- Going to hurt him
- Going to be alone
- Going to have to find a place for myself
- Going to change my life in a major way
- Going to have to face the cost of 9 years of my life in this relationship
- Going to be free
Humans, naturally, like stability. We like knowing how much money we will have. We like routines. We like a life that’s predictable and can offer us a certain level of security. We like being 100% sure of the love of others. We like to cling to things that are permanent. We like to identify, and to dig our heels deep in these identifications. “I am… I am… I am…”
But if there is one truth that Buddhism has taught me, is that all of it is an illusion. Nothing is permanent. Aside from our neurons, every cell in our body dies and gets replaced according to its own schedule. My thoughts change constantly. My mood is pathologically unstable. Nothing, nothing, is permanent.
Facing this truth makes us uncomfortable. “No,” we think. “I have a self. It’s always been there.” Science disagrees, but the illusion is strong. But living in constant discomfort is, well… discomforting. Even the most adept meditators and wisest of people can only do it for so long. We need some relief. We need some respite.
But respite doesn’t mean running away from the uncomfortable truths that we all have to face one day or another.
The sunk cost bias
It took me 3 years to break up with M. Some people ask me how I managed to wait that long. There were many factors: comfort, fear of hurting him, gaslighting on his part, hope that things would improve, and, most of all, a stupid sunk cost bias: “We’ve come so far… I can wait a little longer.”
When we love someone, when we commit to them and say “hey, I’m going to stand with you through thick and thin, I’m going to support you through whatever you go through,” it’s hard to take a step back and decide that standing with them is no longer worth it.
It is deeply unsettling to be faced with a moment of pure clarity: “in this moment, saving myself is more important than staying with you”. Can all broken/breaking relationships be saved? Should we save them? Is it because people change, or was there a fundamental incompatibility there that you didn’t want to see in the first place? Did you make a mistake by being with this person?
But we’re invested. We’re hoping for better results in the future—at least results better than what they are right now, despite the fact that they are much worse than what you were promised in the first place. “It might get better.” Except it doesn’t. It doesn’t unless both want to work at it, and to face what really is at the heart of their conflict.
You could stay on the plain, far away from the edge, and forever dream of and long for the other side, because the edge is uncomfortable. Because the edge is scary. Because at the edge, there is a risk: you might fall.
But know the truth: falling is our natural state. Constant change is the way of the world. We live our life constantly on the edge, whether we see it or not. You could cross the street and get hit by a car. You could have a stroke in the next minute. Or the next. Your loved one could leave. The world could end. The safe plain is an illusion, something that our brain conjures to avoid having to walk scared 24/7.
The edge can be tamed. It can be made less scary. It’ll make you uncomfortable, always, but you can lean into the discomfort and tame that instead.
Discomfort is not something to avoid. Discomfort is a sign that tells you where your boundaries are. Some boundaries are meant to be retained—that’s okay. But others are meant to be pushed, prodded, challenged. How do you know the difference? I’m not quite sure. But personally, I know which discomfort I should listen to, and which discomfort I should push through.
And whenever I’ve pushed through one, I’ve discovered something new and interesting about myself. I’ve had an interesting experience. I’ve done something wonderful. Or I’ve made a hard decision that hurts in the moment (omg I’m falling!) but eventually leads to a more authentic life (I’m not going to disintegrate when I land!).
I like the edge. Kink is part of my edge. Poly is part of my edge. Going back to school is part of my edge. I have been living an edge professionally for a few years now, even. I am not content with a sterile, safe life anymore. Safe is boring. Safe is tedious. Safe is death.
Safe is illusion.
Love is not safe
There is nothing safe about feelings. There is nothing safe about loving. Loving is the opposite of safety. Loving is being open, truthful, always vulnerable. Loving is about letting your walls down and letting someone else in—and it’s also about being willing to enter someone else. The one can be just as scary as the other.
Being truly loving is how we learn the truth of human life, its purpose. Being truly loving isn’t about sex or relationships or marriage, although these things can be part of it. You can go without any of these things and still know what true love is.
True love is the scariest fucking thing you’ll ever feel. Love will force you to jump, to let go of everything you believe is safe and permanent in your life. (And if you start feeling like love is safe and permanent, you’re not loving enough anymore.) With another person, love is the constant reaffirmation of vulnerability.
If your love has become walled, if your love has become sterile, if your love has become safe, there’s a problem. If, in your relationship, you’re unwilling to walk to the edge together… then maybe you should go your separate ways.
Stand on the edge. Stare at the cliff. Consider jumping. But never leave this place, the edge, for the comfort of a plain.