I was surprised the other day when listening to the How to build a happy life podcast to hear this sentence:
Maturity involves learning not to push love away, either through neglect or through actively pushing love away.Robert Waldinger
My first thought was, Why would anyone push love away? But as I thought more about it, I realized there are a million ways we push love away. We close ourselves off because we don’t want to get hurt. We take loved ones for granted and neglect those relationships because we think they don’t require care. We reject potential friends or partners because they fall short in some way.
My second thought was, Why did Waldinger mention this as an element of maturity? Why not happiness, or fulfillment, or meaningfulness? On the show, it came up in the context of young people thinking they should work and get ahead first, that love and relationships could come later in life. And I get that as it relates to maturity. The hosts and guests were saying don’t put love off, and that when we’re young and don’t know any better, we don’t realize how hard it will be later, or how fulfilling it it is to have people in your life who know your history and were there for it.
I think there’s more, though. The more life we live — the more people we meet and interact with, the more jobs and coworkers we observe the chaos and messes of, the more conversations we have with and about friends and partners and how hard marriage can be, the more books and music and movies and art we consume about human struggles — the more we realize all people are flawed. All people are trying to figure out this life thing, all people have imperfections, all people have annoying little (or big) habits or beliefs or behaviors. As we mature, we realize we can’t reject everyone who’s not perfect. If we do, we’ll be all alone.
In terms of pushing love away through neglect, as we age and realize the ubiquity of human flaws, we also realize how special it is to find those people we can not only stand to be around, but who we want to be around. If we’re lucky, we catch ourselves when we take those people for granted, and we become more attentive to them. We know they’re rare and precious, and we give the relationships the care they deserve.
The message I received from all of this is to welcome love. Welcome love in all its forms, whether new friends or old, and care for it when you’ve got it.