True love is the union of parallel paths

by DRM

Whenever we find, in two forms of life that are unrelated to each other, a similarity of form or of behavior patterns which relates to more than a few minor details, we assume it to be caused by parallel adaptation to the same life-preserving function.
Konrad Lorenz

One hot Friday afternoon a long time ago I drove up the West Side Highway in my Datsun B210 with two young women that I had just met. The traffic was heavy and we were at the start of the long drive to Maryland. One of the women sat beside me in the passenger seat. By the time we were halfway across the George Washington Bridge, I said to myself, “I’m not going to let her get away. I’m going to marry her.”

We did, a little more than a year later. After seven years, our marriage ended in a conflagration of despair and anger, emotions that had been breeding from that very first day.

What could have happened in that car ride? I was 24, a teacher at a private school in New York. She was the same age and did the same thing at a school two blocks away. We both taught English.

We were driving to a forensics tournament where students from various schools gave prepared speeches and were judged. I was an advisor to our forensics team. She was an advisor to theirs.

Her father taught history at another school in New York. My father taught English at a school in New England.

I was a writer. She was a poet.

She knew people I went to school with. She had had a crush on the middle son of my sister’s godfather. She was the middle child of seven. I was the oldest child of six.

She laughed. We spoke shorthand. We were starting out life. We were enthralled.

I’ve never really understood how the connection could have sparked so hotly and been so misguided, soldering a union between two souls that saw the world through completely different filters — dark and light, violent and soft, independent and dependent, harsh and kind.

When I read the quote from Lorenz, I experienced a moment of understanding.

I had misinterpreted our common ground as a “parallel adaptation to the same life-preserving function.”

The symmetry of facts, the commonality of experience and the synthesis of language were markers to me that her journey through the world had taught her to value the same things that I had learned to value. The work of getting to that point in my life had not been easy and I was nowhere near done. It was lonely and uncertain. It was risky. It was hard.

I lit up inside at the idea that I could share the journey with someone. And I burned brightly at the feeling that I would walk with someone who could understand and share.

The mistake was that we shared many of the same life experiences, but our adaptations were not at all parallel. Not at all.

Being together wasn’t something that brought strength to each other. It required a constant expenditure of will.

I didn’t learn this lesson until much later.

When I met T,. I experienced a physical sensation that I had never felt before.

Today I understand that it was the thrill of recognition. I was with someone who was walking that parallel path of adaptation.

Nothing has been the same in my life since.

I have one wish. I wish that I could find a simple checklist for True Love that could be used to find contentment and avoid distress. I wish I could give our children a filter that they could run their infatuations and excitements through to understand whether they and their paramour had experienced those parallel paths, were aligned in how they saw the world, in what they value about people and each other.

The pain of being in the wrong love can only be described in images and metaphor. Definitions and simple descriptions fall short. But we all know the experience.

Being loved is the greatest thing I have ever experienced in the world. Giving that same gift is the greatest satisfaction. I wish I could teach it.