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1 Jan 2007

the secret of love

It is the time of the year where we find ourselves wanting to connect with and appreciate our friends; a time to have a conversation with them about things that really matters to us... Tan Chong Kee shares what he has learnt about the secret of love.

Last Sunday, I invited two of my best friends over for a nice long lunch. They were a straight couple who have been married for many years and still obviously very much in love. We started talking about relationship and I, having just come out from a terrible failed one, turned to them in earnest, and asked them to divulge their secret.

The husband barely needed to think before answering: find the right person and give 100 percent. He grinned at me and continued: "that wasn't what I did when I was younger, but I eventually learned this lesson." I understood, without him saying so, the difference between his first and his current marriage. It was such a simple and honest thing to say, and I felt renewed appreciation for them as my dear friends.

That got me thinking. How do I know if someone is the 'right' person? How can I give 100 percent?

We all have a list of what our 'right' person must be: he or she must be attractive enough, rich enough, has a good enough job, has a high enough social status and then they must be funny enough, intelligent enough, generous enough, patient enough, good enough in bed... and then they must be willing to pick me up from work, not get angry when I cancel on a dinner date, laugh at all my jokes, dresses the way I like, think the way I do Sure, some of the items on the list are the bare essential items that let you know you have met the 'right' person - and they are different for different people. But if they are causing us never to meet anyone 'right', then it is probably a good idea to examine that list more closely to find out what is going on.

Why is it still so hard to find the right person even after reducing our list to the bare essentials? Even if we start a relationship with someone who meets all our core essentials, somehow, something goes wrong along the way. Let me admit right away that I tried for years to find one myself but have so far only several close hits but no true success story to report. And I looked at my friends who are so in love. What makes them the 'right' person for each other? What is their secret? How do people who are truly right for each other recognise each other? What is it that they look for in another that tells them: yes, this is the one for me? I really wanted to know so that I could find mine.

And then the true meaning of my friend's answer dawned on me. The man to whom I'm willing to give 100 percent will be the right one for me. And similarly, the man from whom I will receive his 100 percent will pick me as his perfect match. The secret to love is ridiculously simple: it is the willingness to give and the willingness to receive.

Have you ever met someone and very quickly become attracted to them? That is the sign that you could potentially be each other's perfect match. These are the people who fit all our core relationship essentials. As long as you are not emotionally shut down, your body and subconscious mind will let you know it very quickly through the feeling of strong attraction.

Whether or not that potential becomes realised depends crucially on how much we are willing to give and to receive. Love demands no less than our all. We are either giving our 100 percent or we are not. No bullshit, no hedging, no middle ground.

This is a hard lesson for many of us to learn. We fear giving 100 percent because we fear losing control. We tell ourselves if we love another person with all our heart, they will take advantage of us, or they will take us for granted, or I will not be able to make them do what I want anymore, or they will not love me back... So we hold back. We think we can play the game of giving the other person a little taste of the good stuff, and then give them more if they do something we like, or withhold if they do something we don't like. Or we withhold to keep them on their toes, to keep them guessing so they would love us more. Or we set preconditions: we will give 100 percent only if there is total commitment. We forget that love that is withheld will simply wilt and wither and eventually, we do not give not because we choose not to, but because we have no love left in our hearts.

Or we fear receiving 100 percent because we fear the loss. We tell ourselves if they found out who we really are, they will no longer love us, so better not open our heart to receive or the loss will be too painful. We push people away and play hard to get. We show our ugly side little by little, if they are willing to accept that, then we will accept their love a little more. It becomes a game of 'how much bad dynamics can I make this relationship sustain and still keep it limping on'. Or we set secret targets to see if they meet them, or secret traps to see if they would trip. We would rather kill love than to face our fear of receiving it. Some might even fear both giving and receiving and play both contradicting games at the same time, flipping from one to the other at the drop of a hat.

If I had a thousand pages I would not be able to enumerate all the games of love that we play. We have learned these games from our parents, from our friends and from our environment. We might be clever enough to have invented a few of our own. And the really clever ones could even invent games that will fool themselves. But consider this: would we still truly love and respect someone if we actually succeed in manipulating them? Isn't it clear that these games will only lead to lose-lose end results? Isn't it obvious that in using them to prevent what we don't want from occurring, they become precisely what will cause the results we most dread?

Why then do we hang on to these games when they are causing us so much anguish? It is, ironically, because we are afraid of getting hurt. But guess what happens when you start playing games? You draw your partner in and sooner or later, they will respond with their own games. We thus create for ourselves this tragic vicious cycle: We play games to avoid getting hurt. These games cause us great hurt. So we hope that a more skillful play will give us the upper hand next time. Fear leading to pain leading to more fear leading to more pain. Relationships now become the place for us to refine our game-playing skills, as our mind churns out a hundred reasons why we must 'win' at all costs! Is it any wonder that so many people have completely given up on love? And we blame the world for it, without ever realising that we are creating and perpetuating our own hell.

But what about the hurt, some might insist, we cannot ignore that possibility can we? I am reminded of the lyrics that ask this question very poetically: "some say love, it is a razor, that leads your soul to bleed" And there is no better answer to this question than these same lyrics:

It's the heart, afraid of breaking,
That never, learns to dance,
It's the dream, afraid of waking,
That never, takes the chance,
It's the one, who won't be taken,
Who cannot seem to be,
And the soul, afraid of dying,
That never, learns to live.

The secret to love is there is no secret. Find the right person, then give and receive 100 percent. The deep dark secrets are in the games, and there is no need to dwell in those bleak and lifeless depths.

Are you still playing games with the one whom you love? Now is the perfect moment to take stock and ask yourself what you really want: to be 'safe' and 'right', or to find love. There will be pain whichever way you choose - one is the dull pain of slowly dying, the other is the quick pain of being alive. And there is also a difference in the pay off: in one, you get to feel superior if you 'win'. In the other, you get to surrender to true love.

Happy New Year to one and all, and may we each have the courage to reach for the love, the joy and the fulfillment that are in all our destinies.

Dr Tan Chong Kee holds a Ph.D. in Chinese Literature from Stanford University in the United States and is one of Singapore's best-known figures in civil society activism.


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