The Ultimate Outlaw

Love is the ultimate outlaw. It just won’t adhere to any rules. The most any of us can do is to sign on as its accomplice. Instead of vowing to honor and obey, maybe we should swear to aid and abet. That would mean that security is out of the question. The words “make” and “stay” become inappropriate. My love for you has no strings attached. I love you for free.
Tom Robbins

I went back to school in 2005 to earn a master’s degree in journalism. One of the reasons behind it was to be in a boot camp-style setting where my ass would be kicked all over the proverbial court. I wanted the challenge good classes give; with teachers who wouldn’t let me off the hook, classmates who critiqued everything I said and did, and assignments that challenged me to analyze my growth and position on any number of topics.

The experience isn’t much different from entering a relationship. You know there’s going to be a mirror held up to you at every bend in the road. A good partner won’t let you off the hook, will question your positions, and challenge you to analyze your growth. You know there will be days when your partner is simply “not in the mood”, cranky, insulting, or downright tough to be around. And ditto for you. No one in the world sees those secret parts of yourself you’re so good at hiding—no one, that is, except the person you promise to love so well. You can slip nothing by the goalie in a relationship—the microscope is on, and you’re the little bacteria swimming in the illuminated Petri dish.

Dating is a whole different ballgame from a friend who asks so little of you, or an acquaintance who, if annoyed or offended or bothered, can simply walk away and forget your exchange.

A relationship forces accountability in all the areas we find most uncomfortable to examine. And yet in spite of all this discomfort and ugliness, each of us is all too eager to hop aboard when Mr. or Mrs. Right arrives. We sign up even as we know this might not work. And as we warn each other—“guys can’t stand this about me” or “I’m no good for you” or “I know you’re going to break my heart”—we grow ever closer, ever more vulnerable, ever more intertwined until we wonder:

What could there have possibly been before all of this?

My dad played college basketball. He wasn’t a star, but he practiced with some of the best who went on to be pro. He said during all those games spent on the bench in college, he hoped that his time practicing with these greats on this defensive exercise, or that dribbling drill, had somehow helped to push them where they went. Maybe this was his contribution, he figured: not to have been the best, but to have been the one who pushed the others who would go on to become giants.

Are relationships about getting somewhere specific with our partners? Or could it be another idea, about pushing each other past his or her limits so that our partner-in-crime (for a time)'s best self can form? And what if we get there? What if our partners take us to that edge, but then go away? Are we better? Are they? Is there a “better” in a scenario like this? Can we be pushed to that new, untouched place, and still manage to hold on to the person who helped us find it?

Tommy Robbins says, “We waste time looking for the perfect lover, instead of creating the perfect love.” And maybe that’s true. Maybe we meet people who so excite us, we rely on that excitement to fill our hearts and minds indefinitely. And in doing so, we get lazy and forget to create that excitement, that magic, every day. We do things without thinking and end up hurting the person we most want to protect. Or worse, we do hurtful things as a way to get out of a situation we no longer find magical.

Did I get lazy? Did you? Where in the world did all this get so lost in translation, when all the same feelings are still swirling around with those butterflies in my belly? The things I learn sometimes make my belly ache in such a different way than all those damned butterflies. But even as we all suffer along and drag our bodies through the warzone, I go back to my grad school decision. And then I remember that I know so much more than I used to know. And that maybe, just maybe, these lessons of mine (and yours) are actually clues to create that perfect love I sense so well but still fumble over anytime I try to grasp it.