What we look for when we look for love

What we look for when we look for love February 21, 2023

{Photo by Joonhwy Kwon for Scopio}

At times my response to music is Pavlovian. Particular songs can evoke a reaction in me almost before the notes reach my brain, transporting me to times or emotional experiences instantaneously. And of all songs, certain 80s ballads are most potent in this way. Somehow those songs so fully take me back to love-sick adolescence that hearing them makes me want to stop everything I am doing and slow dance. Once again, I feel the song’s force on my fourteen-year-old heart as if I’m still that girl, desperate to fall in love.

Listening to certain songs (aka Journey love ballads), I recall the intense adolescent desire to be kissed, to have someone gaze at me like I am seen and loved. At that age, I felt I’d be incomplete until a young man validated me—usually against the soundtrack of an 80s love ballad. And not just any young man, but one with whom I was hopelessly infatuated. But this was not to be my experience. In fact, not only during adolescence, but during the first five decades of my life I never quite felt seen by a romantic partner. Oh I had relationships, even marriages. And yet.


What I’ve come to realize as I’ve aged is that it’s rare for people to have the experience of being fully seen and appreciated in romantic relationships. I think it’s even rare in parent-child relationships. We all desire to be seen fully by a beloved and uniquely appreciated; but I’ve come to wonder if it’s always God we’re looking for. The gaze of the divine parent; the divine lover. Not some ‘Being in the Sky’ kind of God, and not the heavenly groom in a weird bride-of-Christ sort of way, but God as in the source of all being—the divine seed we carry inside of us, the God to whom we return at our earthly end. I remember hearing this idea as a young person (ie that God is who we truly longed for in our longings for love) and rejecting it wholesale. What a daft idea, I thought. I didn’t want God. I wanted Jack, or Jim, or Trevor—whatever the guy’s name happened to be at that juncture—and I was quite certain of it. I was also certain I would find that one, that love-match, the person to reflect back to me all the love I had to give, the person to prove me loveable.


Ironically, for me it was encountering at 30 a friend named Brother Martin, a 75-year-old Trappist monk, that helped me see the divine shape of my longing. Ironic because in Martin I finally felt loved unconditionally and fully seen by another. Yet somehow my 20-years-long friendship with Martin, who died in 2021, allowed me to see what I had sought all along. And that was to gaze at the divine with love and to sense that gaze returned. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe we only know how to love God once we’ve had the transformative encounter of God’s love. And maybe that always comes through the love of another person who repeatedly reminds us of our belovedness to God—as Martin did for me. In Martin I felt so celebrated, welcomed, and acknowledged (as did he, in return), that I could believe it when he reminded me again and again that God rejoiced in me. Not because I was doing anything right—often, I was doing things wrong—but because of my essence.


I’m unspeakably grateful Martin offered me this experience. In truth, I hate to think what would have transpired if he hadn’t. I’d still be looking for The One, I suppose. My wish is that all young people (and older people) might find their way to the love-gaze of the divine. The quest tends to happen within some kind of sacred story, some kind of meaning system like a spiritual or faith tradition lending us language for it. Even young people who experience the divine love-gaze in nature have, somehow, somewhere been given language to structure this experience. We are story-telling creatures, after all. What the divine love-gaze does, ultimately, is make the universe a safe place and end the story with redemption.

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