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The Spiritual Case for Avoiding Cyclical Relationships

John Hatcher | Mar 28, 2021

PART 5 IN SERIES The Purpose of the Prophets of God

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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John Hatcher | Mar 28, 2021

PART 5 IN SERIES The Purpose of the Prophets of God

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

If we allow ourselves to fall victim to the erroneous notion of love as an event rather than a process, then our love will inevitably falter, and we are doomed to pursue the foxfire of cyclical relationships. 

RELATED: Love: An Organic Process, Not an Event

Once the initial aura, perfect chemistry, and magnetic attraction of falling in love wears off, we think we have fallen out of love. Consequently, we think it appropriate that we venture out again in a perilous but adventurous quest for “new love” which, we are led to believe, may be the “real thing” this time — that it will not wear out or lose the glow, charm, delight, and emotional fulfillment.

Of course, if we’re driven by an erroneous notion of what love is or is meant to be, our quest will inevitably render our life as a pitiful, broken trail of “serial monogamy” or failed relationships. 

That serial string of failed relationships will all end up the same way, because what we crave — however much it may seem confirmed by tradition and romantic fiction — is a chimera without any basis in reality. Those who pursue illusions never catch them. Here an oft-cited axiom comes into play: Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.

Or, as the Baha’i teachings remind us in this talk Abdu’l-Baha gave in Paris:

If we suffer it is the outcome of material things, and all the trials and troubles come from this world of illusion.

… the trials which beset our every step, all our sorrow, pain, shame and grief, are born in the world of matter; whereas the spiritual Kingdom never causes sadness. A man living with his thoughts in this Kingdom knows perpetual joy. The ills all flesh is heir to do not pass him by, but they only touch the surface of his life, the depths are calm and serene.

Because we’ve been trained to accept as factual this mythic, illusory idea of love that is instantly perfect and requires no effort or fine tuning, we seem perfectly content to continue exposing ourselves and our progeny to various television series where a variety of central characters have really profound love relationships that endure for one episode, or possibly two or three. Were these same characters our family or friends, we might consider characterizing such behavior as ridiculous, immoral, or self-defeating. But if we accept these portrayals as anything bordering on reality, then on some level we must be as insane as the fictional characters themselves, hoping that the intense passion will last, yet knowing that if there are no more dramatic quests for love, the series must end with the boring sameness of everyday life. There could be no more adventure, no more anticipation of that magic moment when the character has the first thrill of a new encounter, followed by a few successive exquisite dinners until, after about three such occasions, the two finally give way to their passion for one another.

Fortunately, they will take a shower, go to their separate abodes, find something they don’t like about each other, and start the process over again next week with someone else. But after all, this is not reality. This is just fiction, a bunch of fun, a bit of fluff, a diversion for us after a hard day of doing the not-so-glamorous work of earning a living and raising a family — things that, for some never-explained reason, these characters never seem to be required to do lest the plot turn dark or cerebral.

It is so far off the mark — this formula for failure in love — so hyperbolic that we might not think about what it teaches us subliminally. If the same sort of tease successfully coaxes us to buy some medicinal or beauty product that promises to bring us lasting youth and joy, should we not worry about trying to prevent our children or even ourselves from being exposed to such mindlessness? Surely such relentless mantras are as dangerous to our health as cigarettes, and yet we don’t allow TV advertising for tobacco products.

For some reason we are convinced that our little ones will not learn these lessons or emulate this behavior, even if their best friends might. We are confident that through some sort of osmosis our kids will absorb a more mature example of felicity that we surely modeling  for them — unless they happen to watch us watching this stuff, laughing at it, intent on discovering if, at long last, the solitary hunter, the hardened detective, or the emotionally maimed doctor will, at long last, find solace and redemption in a lasting love relationship.

RELATED: Love: More than the Media Portrays

The obvious logical flaw in responding to the attraction a spiritual belief might have for us applies equally well to love in all its manifestations. Love relationships are doomed once the affective stage of the relationship ceases, if the whole foundation of the relationship is emotional or sensual attraction. But if we understand love as an organic process, rather than an event, it will necessarily be in a constant state of change, growth, and development, just like every other organic enterprise. Furthermore, because we ourselves are organic, both physically and metaphysically, we are also constantly changing. 

Consequently, any relationships in which we are involved must necessarily evolve and develop and adapt to befit our continually changing condition, and rather than being disturbed or unnerved by this ongoing process, we will — if we are wise — take joy in that evolutionary process.

If we think ourselves incapable of accepting this inherent attribute of love and of striving to deal with what these changes require from us, then we would be better off simply avoiding love relationships from the start. However, if love is an inherent force within us, this decision to ignore or deny love might require more stress and more free will and discipline on our part than it would to recognize the organic nature of love, to study and understand it, and then to attempt to become sufficiently self-aware so that we are capable of allowing change to be seen as a sign of growth and a cause for rejoicing, not a sign of “falling out of love.” 

Love as Process

When we step beyond the limitations of the traditional but obviously inaccurate and flawed concept of love, we can come to appreciate that an authentic love relationship contains the capability of enduring and of establishing a bulwark against the changes and chances of life. This is not to say that the initial emotional indices of attraction or infatuation are not powerful, real, and important. But if we begin to consider love as an organic process rather than a static condition of ecstatic adoration, then we realize exactly why the common understanding of love and the love relationship is inadequate and misguided.

Unfortunately, as it turns out, this fiction imitates reality. Or maybe we have become trained to imitate fiction. We have come to accept a moral perspective, or rather an amoral perspective, that real people — such as our own family or the family of virtually all the friends of our children — live with every day. It is precisely this cyclical paradigm that Abdu’l-Baha commented on when he said that “love” relationships as these are not really love at all, regardless of however much society may deem them so, but “merely acquaintanceship” subject to change.

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  • Mar 31, 2021
    Well said sir. 100% on point. And such an important conversation for the Baha'i youth.
  • Steve Eaton
    Mar 28, 2021
    Even before reaching your discussion of "process", I already was thinking "Process over outcome". That zen approach has been emphasized often in recent years, and many people are happier for it. In fact, how
    could static outcomes EVer fit into dynamic reality?
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